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!
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
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?