If you’ve been hurt, you may be sick of people telling you that you need to forgive and quite confused by and vehemently opposed to the very thought. I want to offer an easier-to-swallow perspective. I think to FOR-GIVE is to, FOR our own serenity, GIVE the guilt back to whom it belongs. When we are victimized, we are sometimes so enraged that we desire those who have hurt us to be harmed. Wishing harm is in essence hate, and hate is the absence of love. It seems to me that we are made to love; it is what comes naturally. When we don’t act in accord with this – when we don’t act with love – we feel guilt. Some people would even go so far as to say we are guilty if we can’t “love our enemies.” Sometimes love seems impossible so we reject the idea, making war against ourselves and consequently turning guilt into shame. Shame leads us to believe we cannot change as a person because we see ourselves as flawed. Most often, and far too often, this occurs because too many people stop short in understanding the application of love.
Consider the rhetoric of “hate the sin and love the sinner”. That’s a contrite and misguided statement. It IS healthy and healing to love a human being who has hurt us because s/he has the potential to heal and be loving. However, we are something besides just human beings – we are individual persons. So, when someone repeatedly acts in an unloving manner such that it has become their character or personality, we are free to choose without guilt to like, love or dislike that person in accord with or in spite of their actions. To not allow this distinction leaves far too many victims locked in confusion, ultimately feeling guilty for not being able to forgive or feeling so frustrated with trying to forgive that anger sucks the love right out of us. We fail to see the victimizer as capable of change. It is only HATE of the human being or the person that rightly bring the discomfort of guilt because it puts us at war with our loving selves. Let me clarify.
It is right to begin with the concept of separating actions from the person who is acting, but we must then go on to separate the human being from the person. This in turn allows us to see the perpetrator is a human being who made choices influenced by the same sort of things that influence how we choose to act, to recognize that the perpetrator had and still has the potential for good. Yet, for reasons we do not fully know or understand, our perpetrator chose to act in ways that were self-serving and lacking in compassion for us. Therefore, we can GIVE the guilt back to the one who chose to act without love, knowing that WE did NOTHING wrong to deserve being hurt. We, as human beings, are meant to be loved and to love. When a someone’s needs are consistently not met, it is difficult for her/him to feel loved and in turn know how to be loving. Guilt belongs and always has to the one who made the choice to act without love because s/he was at war with her/himself. It doesn’t have to be our war to fight. FOR our serenity, we release that responsibility to her/him, knowing that the “best revenge (which isn’t really revenge at all) is a life well-lived”.
We are all human beings. We act based on the choices we make, which in turn, for good or bad, reinforces our personal identity. Thus, we are the person we choose to be. If we can see and accept these differentiations, we have the power to forgive others. More importantly, we have the power to forgive ourselves. We can grow in love for ourselves and recognize that we are capable of changing who we are with every choice we make. It is only what we are that is unchanging. It is this – what others are and who they are capable of becoming – that we are called to LOVE. When we forgive, we are able to love our fellow human beings and to love ourselves into fullness.
Forgiveness is a very difficult concept to grasp and an even more difficult one to practice. It is important to realize that true forgiveness is an aspect of making amends. If I ‘forgive’ a person who has wronged me but make myself available to be easily hurt again, I haven’t completely released the problem. Making amends means setting things right as best we can. That includes doing what we need to do for our own recovery which necessarily requires we set and maintain healthy boundaries. Many of us must learn how to do this over a course of time. For that reason, forgiveness is a process rather than a decision or one time action. Recovery is a multifaceted progression rather than a linear journey.