Renewing or Releasing — Brilliance Part Two

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.


The Brilliance of the Fourfold Path


In their new book,  The Book of Forgiving,  Desmond and Mpho Tutu describe a fourfold path for healing ourselves and the world.  Two of the paths are pretty obvious, I think. But the other two are what makes the process brilliant and takes us to a deeper level of healing.

The first step on the fourfold path is Telling the Story.  This is a crucial step because, for many of us, it helps lift the veil of shame that surrounds many of our wounds.  Some of us have wounds that we have kept secret, sometimes for many, many years.   Others of us may acknowledge  the person or event or situation that wounded us but choose to stuff it deep within us, never really letting on to how much it has wounded us .  Telling the Story brings the wound into the light.  Telling the story to a person capable of empathy and compassion is a crucial first step toward healing. It is empowering for the person who is wounded and can strip the event of much of power  we feel it has over us.

The way to start, Tutu says, is to tell the truth.  Start with the facts. Tell it to a person who is trusted and capable of empathy and compassion.  and accept  that what has happened cannot be changed.

But Tutu says we don’t stop there. it’s important not to get stuck in simply telling the story. We need to also Name the Hurt (step 2 on the fourfold path). When we only tell the story and stop there, we ruminate over the pain, and the poison of our resentment can permeate us.  When we simply telling the story, we can get stuck in victim mode and blaming.  When we name the hurt, however, we move to a deeper level of vulnerability. We move beyond just facts and identify the feelings within those facts.  We acknowledge that we aren’t simply angry or annoyed or frustrated.  We are hurt.  The actions of the other have hurt us.  Naming the hurt requires  lowering our defenses and  acknowledging that others can hurt us.  Without naming the hurt, we can keep stewing in our anger.  I think inviting us to name our hurt is one of the things that make this fourfold path brilliant.    Because let’s face it — there’s little or nothing in our world that encourages us to vulnerable like that, especially when we have been hurt.  We live in a “look out for # 1” society.  Get the other guy before he gets you.   Never let them see you sweat.  And never admit someone can hurt you.

Tutu and his daughter Mpho invite us into a counter-cultural way of looking at forgiveness — a way where, through our weakness, we find power.   Jesus was all about that  The Tutus remind us of Jesus’ message of the finding our strength through weakness.   By doing the very thing that our culture says it weak — acknowledging our hurt – we will discover our healing.  A paradox. A wise friend once told me, “Whenever you encounter a paradox, pay attention.  God is very near!”

Next post, steps 3 and 4.  Stay tuned……..

Forgiveness — How do you do that?



This Lent, I committed to doing a lot of spiritual reading — reading that feeds the soul and expands my sense of that which is beyond just me and my world — reading that points to God and the holy in our midst.  I’ve read some really incredible things  (more on that in another blog).   But the most challenging and inspiring things I have read are the many articles and stories and books about forgiveness.

I’ve read story after story about people who have experienced traumatic and devastating loss at the hands of other human beings, and have  not only come to forgive them, but in many cases have built a loving and trusting relationship with their perpetrator. Stories like Katy Hutchison, whose husband was murdered on New Years Eve by Ryan Aldridge because he complained about a party next door being too loud ( read more here.)  Or Linda Biehl, who has forgiven,  embraced and worked with Easy Nofemela, the South African man who beat her daughter to death while she was doing service work in South Africa, simply because she was a white person (read her story here .)  These are profound stories of reconciliation and healing.  And I have to say, I hope, if I was ever in a similar situation, I could respond with as much compassion and courage as these people.  But I don’t know.  I think of how angry I STILL get when I think of those mean middle school girls who were cruel to my daughter at the lunch table — and that was 15 years ago!!  How does one come to a place of such compassion and healing?

We think of forgiveness as almost impossible because we wrongly think :

  • to forgive means to forget
  • to forgive means to let the other person off the hook – they will get away with whatever they did.
  • to forgive means to invite the person to just do it again
  • to forgive means you send the message that it’s ok to hurt me like this
  • to forgive means that I was wrong, and I KNOW I am right in this situation!
  • to forgive means you are just being a chump.  Forgiveness is for wimps!

Sound familiar?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written a wonderful new book that tells us how to get on the path of forgiveness.  It’s called The Book of Forgiving:  The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Healing the World.  It is a brilliant,  beautiful, heartfelt book that lights the way for us toward reconciliation and healing.  I recently gave a Lenten day of reflection and prayer at St Thomas  where we looked at this fourfold path.  It was an amazing day.

Tutu’s fourfold path is:

Telling the Story

Naming the Hurt

Granting Forgiveness

Renewing or Releasing the Relationship

I will be writing more over the next two weeks about each of these steps on the path.  But for now, as we enter these last weeks of Lent,  I invite you think about these question:   Who have I not forgiven?  Who has hurt me so badly that I just can’t let it go?  Bishop Tutu says not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  To forgive, he says, is the greatest gift of healing we can give to ourselves.  What poison am I still drinking?

Some of the last words Jesus ever uttered were while he hung on the cross and said: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”   His last action was one of forgiveness.  How do we heal our broken hearts so that we can be people of forgiveness as well?

Stay tuned…….