Do You Have Trouble Forgiving?

So do I. Maybe it’s because of the toxic family script I inhaled as a child: “Backmans never forgive.” Or maybe, being hypersensitive in general, I’m hypersensitive to “the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” In other words, I get hurt and it sticks.

I do know that forgiveness is required of me as a Christian. One part of the Lord’s Prayer—“forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”—implies that if we don’t forgive, it’ll cost us.

And yet getting to forgiveness seems well-nigh impossible.

All this came to mind when an article in Tricycle, a Buddhist journal, caught my eye. Author Gina Sharpe ruminates on the general landscape of forgiveness before describing three practices that can foster it. Here’s part of that landscape:

Forgiveness does not gloss over what has happened in a superficial way…. It’s not a misguided effort to suppress our pain or to ignore it. If you’ve suffered a great injustice, coming to forgiveness may include a long process of grief and outrage and sadness and loss and pain. Forgiveness is a deep process, which is repeated over and over and over again in our hearts. It honors the grief and it honors the betrayal. And in its own time, it ripens into the freedom to truly forgive.

Sharpe’s forgiveness practice grows from the same ground:

As you do the following forgiveness practices, let yourself feel whatever small or large release there is in your heart. Or if there is no release, notice that too. And if you are not ready to forgive, that’s all right. Sometimes the process of forgiveness takes a lifetime, and that’s perfectly fine. You can unfold in your own time and in your own way….  Forgiveness is an attitude of welcoming and inviting and spaciousness rather than some emotion that we pump up in our bodies and minds and hearts.

I read all this and thought, This is something I can do. It acknowledges the sheer difficulty of forgiveness. It describes forgiveness as I’ve experienced it: time-consuming, slow, requiring attention and effort. Most of all, it gives me permission to take my time, to do only what I can, as long as my heart stays pointed in the general direction of forgiveness.

I offer this to you in case it helps with your own struggle. But I’m also noticing something else here. For all their emphasis on forgiveness and its importance, the Christian scriptures don’t really describe how to go about it. For me Sharpe’s article, with its Buddhist framework, is yet another example of how different faiths can feed off and illuminate each other when they’re allowed to play in the same sandbox. Have you experienced this too?

4 Responses to “Do You Have Trouble Forgiving?”

  • Karen Lea Siegel says:

    This is actually similar also to Barbara Crafton’s method on forgiveness. She did a whole series of talks at Trinity, with panel discussions; we used the series as one of our adult education segments last year or the year before.

    And yes, I have many times seen that the more truly spiritually seeking a person is, the less the details of that person’s particular faith get in the way – at heart, we are more alike than we are different.

    • admin says:

      I love the way you put your last line: “The more truly spiritually seeking a person is….” I think I first noticed that when reading Thomas Merton’s Asian Journal: it showed me that the further people went into monasticism/mysticism/seeking/etc., the closer they drew to each other’s ideas, and the less the details mattered. It’s been a source of inspiration for me ever since.

  • Alfred Vautour says:

    I’ve held this belief for some time. I believe that Desmond Tutu wrote a book touching on some of this. It can be really hard work. I’m drawn to the quote now as I recently did some of this work when I met with schoolmate who continually bullied me as a child late last month. It’s funny the experience was well worth it,but it occurred to me that I had done so much of the work before I met with him it made the meeting far easier than I had expected. Most of the pain for me was holding on relinquishing a bit at a time. In retrospect I really value the maturing of my soul that came with it, though in the throws of it I would have never admitted it. Thanks for the post.

    • admin says:

      What a great story, Al. I particularly love this line: “I really value the maturing of my soul that came with it.” Yes, indeed.

      Your comment also struck a chord because of some inner work I did just this morning. It dawned on me that the anger I’ve directed toward a longtime “adversary” is actually misdirected: it belongs more to a culture from part of my early adulthood–and, even more accurately, the way my own mental health issues interacted with that culture. Something about that insight, and especially my own role in it, was liberating.

      All of this persuades me that forgiveness is very hard work, but the fruit it bears is priceless. I’m just so glad we don’t have to rush it.

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