By Eric Rucker
The Forgiveness Process
I was commuting to work the other day, listening to worship music, and to my surprise I started to cry. I’m not a frequent crier, so you can imagine how surprised I was that my crying continued through the whole drive; and then continued during my therapy session that afternoon; and then continued on my commute home that evening!
Tears are sometimes a mysterious thing, and it’s often hard for me to reduce the explanation of my tears to one feeling or trace them back to one cause. We weep precisely because we don’t have the words – to express the joy, the love, the loss, the pain. But as I sat with the tears, this is what I noticed:
Living through a global pandemic, much of the time I was in survival mode, as were my children and many people in my community. Most of our lives were stripped of conveniences and artificiality. Not only did I lack the time to nurture my spiritual life as I desired. But when I did (rarely) find time, I lacked the energy that I so needed to engage in prayer, worship, and self-care. It feels like my spirit has been tensed and bracing for impact for over a year, like I hardened my heart so as not to have it irreparably broken for sixteen months.
And I say this without judgement on myself. God wants us to live, and sometimes faithfulness looks like just getting through the chaos.
But I think the tears were the beginning of me feeling all that has happened during COVID more deeply. I think it was my spirit finally feeling safe enough to crack open the door and share what it’s been through.
One of the toughest things that has emerged from that fountain of tears is a new awareness of resentment and unforgiveness I am harboring. I’m slowing down enough to feel my disappointment about the ways that my expectations were shattered during this past year. I feel let down by loved ones who couldn’t be the resource I wanted them to be. I feel let down by my own inability to be as resilient as I desired. I feel let down by God, who let all of this happen.
Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian gospel, and Jesus is an embodiment of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for all of us wounded, weary people. And Jesus clearly asks that we forgive others as God has forgiven us (Matt 6:12-14; 18:21-35). But if we need yet another reason to forgive, we can remember that living with unforgiveness can weigh down our own hearts and atrophy our own spirits.
Apparently Nelson Mandela once advised that “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
I know that forgiveness is complicated, so I am NOT arguing that you must forgive right now, if you aren’t ready. It’s also vital to clarify that forgiving is NOT the same as accepting or condoning harm done to you, nor consenting for that harm to continue.
Forgiveness is as much about freeing myself as it is about transforming the one being forgiven.
So I’m trying to do my forgiveness work, to forgive those around me, and myself, and God, for all the ways that my needs and expectations weren’t met during this past season. And I invite you, gently and compassionately, to pause and do the same.
What did you need, that you didn’t get, in the struggle of this past year? What resentments might God want to free you from, so that you can live, and live abundantly?
I invite you to utilize the forgiveness process below as a tool for the Spirit’s work of love and healing. I also highly recommend using the process with a trained support person – therapist, spiritual director, etc. – if the harm done to you has been significant. Peace be with you, friends.
A forgiveness process:
Source: Grieco, Mary Hayes. Unconditional Forgiveness: A Simple and Proven Method to Forgive Everyone and Everything. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011.