The second part of Tutu’s fourfold path of forgiveness that I think is pure brilliance is this concept of renewing or releasing the relationship. Tutu says once you have granted forgiveness, then you decide if you are going to renew the relationship or release the relationship. So many of us think that if we forgive someone, we are just going to go back to the way things were before. And most of us find that idea impossible. So we often think the only alternative is to end the relationship completely, usually with very hard feelings.
But Tutu says there is another way. We can choose to renew the relationship, knowing that what was before can never be the same again. We are not restoring a relationship to its previous form. We don’t go back to before the hurt and pretend it never happened. When we renew the relationship. we set upon creating someone new and different, encompassing the suffering. There is an awareness that you are someone who has hurt me. and I am someone who can hurt you. But we choose instead to take another path. Tutu says the renewed relationship can be deeper because we have faced the truth together, recognized our shared humanity, and now tell a new story of a relationship transformed.
Tutu says that renewing the relationship is always the preference. But sometimes it is simply not possible. Sometimes we simply do not know who has harmed us. Or sometimes it can be a matter of safety. This person who hurt us cannot be trusted , for whatever reason, not to do the same damage to you over again. Renewing the relationship might actually harm you further. In that case, we release the relationship. This is so very different from holding a grudge and never speaking to someone again. To release the relationship means you choose to not have someone in your life anymore, but you release that person without wishing them any ill. We offer forgiveness and release them to continue on their life path. Releasing frees us from victimhood and trauma. It is refusing to allow a person or experience to occupy any space in your head or your heart any longer. And, Tutu says, you not only release the person, you release your old story of the relationship.
This Holy Week is the ultimate story of renewing. Jesus takes the torture, the rejection, the injustice, the abandonment, and turns it into a completely new story. From the cross he looks down on these people who have done this to him and says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He offers forgiveness and chooses to renew God’s relationship with humanity in a whole new way. And nothing would ever be the same again.
I believe forgiveness is the key to healing humanity and bringing peace into the world. If each of us were intentional about forgiveness in our own lives, our own communities, think of the ripple effect that would have? Like a stone dropped into a still lake, sending ripples out for miles. If you are still holding on to a wound and refusing to forgive, perhaps this Holy Week is a good time to consider the fourfold path of forgiveness. Or if you have hurt someone and are in need of forgiveness, perhaps this is the week to think about reconnecting and seeing how forgiveness can create a new story. Dying and Rising. New life. That is what Holy Week is all about.