Friends, I don't claim to be an expert on forgiveness, but I have spoken and written on the topic for almost twenty years, as well as having gone through the process myself. I just want to clarify some points -- especially those that may be counter-intuitive. This is critical for the healing and growth of every Christian.
- Forgiveness is not tied to emotion in any way. It is an act of the will that is taken when the time is right;
- Effective forgiveness requires that the injury or injustice is understood;
- Understanding an injury/injustice may take time to consider its layers;
- Uncovering an injury/injustice can be traumatic and has to be done in a safe place;
- Being face to face with the reality of the injury/injustice should eventually bring out deep and previously buried emotions -- this is entirely natural, human, and proper to the situation;
- There must be an adequate time for grief and rage -- don't be afraid of this period;
- After you know what you're forgiving, you make an act of forgiveness that is simply comprised of words (no feelings, no affection for the abuser, etc.) It is an act of the will that forms the words: "I forgive ___ for ___." That's all.
- You must forgive regardless of whether the injury was intentional, accidental, understandable given some mitigating factor, known to the person, or unknown -- it doesn't matter. This includes everyone from the Jew forgiving his Nazi jailor to the widow forgiving the pilot of the doomed flight that killed her husband. Loss is loss, and the injury comes from the injustice of losing something of value (losing your innocence, losing your job, losing your child, losing your mobility because of an accident, etc.)
- You don't have to contact the person who has injured you -- he may be dead, he may be still frightening to you, he may be inaccessible for some reason. To this end, Pete has an interesting proposal for those who are capable of contacting those members of the Movement who harmed them here. Worth considering, though not necessary for your healing. Undertaking that step would be an act of charity for them if you can muster the strength.
- Forgiveness/healing can come in layers as new insights are gained. Consider a little girl hit and paralysed by a negligent teenager in a car. She will have several layers: age 8 -- she cannot run and play; age 18 -- she cannot dance at her senior prom; age 28 -- she cannot have children. Each stage will have new tears and a new act of forgiveness attached.
- Forgiveness does NOT short-circuit justice. JP2 forgave his would-be assassin, but made sure he went to jail and refused Agha's request for clemency before the law.
- Forgiveness doesn't say, "It's OK," but instead says, "You hurt me and I forgive you anyway."
- Forgiveness gives freedom to change YOUR behaviour so that, if possible, current and on-going abuse stops. This is enormously counter-intuitive, but when you forgive, you are free to stop any self-destructive behaviours, step away from toxic settings, eliminate poor choices, and put an end to door-mat situations. You are free to set healthy boundaries;
- Forgiveness doesn't let anyone "off the hook;" no one escapes the justice of God and that is why we have to prepare ourselves for our own judgement;
- Forgiveness is all about your own freedom, your own mental health, and your own path towards wisdom. Being free allows you to be open to all the graces God has to offer independent of the path of your abuser, so that you choose wisely in the future.
- Confession is very good when you're ready: to confess the days/weeks/months/years that you have held on to bitterness and resentment.
- Don't expect to forget the injury -- forgiveness is not a lobotomy. You will simply see it differently later when you're healed.
- You don't ever have to like the abuser or spend time with him/her. You will simply see him/her differently later, and perhaps even love him/her more purely. That's for later.
- You cannot forgive yourself -- that's bad theology and metaphysically impossible. If you're having "trouble forgiving yourself," then rethink the problem as a matter of pride. Sorry.
- When you have found the joy at the end of this dark tunnel, you will want to share the process with others -- you will jump at the chance to be an "apostle of forgiveness!"
Nota bene: two dimensions of formation particular to the Movement make forgiveness very difficult:
- The Legion's supression of emotion make the grieving process very hard. It is virtually impossible to forgive properly when you cannot assess the injury or express a normal human reaction to it;
- The Legion's mangled definitions of charity and guilt make the forgiveness process virtually inaccessible. They are so clever at calling "black" "white" (and the opposite) and laying on burdens that are out of place that it often takes someone you trust to decipher what you've experienced.
I don't think either of these two points are accidental, and together they create diabolical obstacles that cannot be underestimated. These may be included in those "dregs" that Legionaries are so insistent on sucking down.
UPDATE: Lauren clarifies an important point.
A wound on the skin will fester if one does not let the air to it and apply the balm or medicine. If one would touch the wound, it would cause one to flinch, the pain would be there. Once the wound heals though, you may still see the scar, but if someone touches it, it won't hurt. You can look at the scar and observe it and say, "Wow, I remember that. It really hurt. It took awhile to heal." You can recall the pain, but the pain isn't hurting you in the present moment. So too with the wounds of the soul.
Resentment is simply re + sentiment (to feel again). Interestingly, even little sores that are left to fester can become very big and painful, not only in the biological sense, but because every time you re + sent the injury, it's as though you're adding another laying of pain to it, so with a snowball effect, a dirty look from your sister can grow into a major family fued if not addressed.