“Unless the fabric of our involvement with others is woven with the threads of forgiveness, love will suffer the corruption of denial, hardness, cynicism, and eventually hatred.” Dan Allender
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Forgiveness – it’s a significant part of Lent’s invitation to surrender, to relinquish control, to open our hands.
But it’s profoundly difficult. In our culture, forgiveness is trivialized. It’s seen as soft to the hardened conservative, convinced the enemy is outside of himself. It’s viewed as a simple behavioral choice by pop psychologists. It’s limited to a juridical decision among some Christians. Rarely, is it seen as the courageous and costly personal act that it is.
Ask an abuse victim to forgive her abuser, and she’ll feel as if she’s got to give up a part of herself to do it. Why should she? She’s given up enough.
Ask someone to forgive a debt, and he might respond, “He needs to take responsibility. Going around forgiving debts only breeds laziness and entitlement!”
While we often consider what forgiveness costs us, we seldom consider how our heart grows more spacious and free when we forgive. While we might consider forgiveness as something that somehow ‘frees’ the other, it actually frees us. When we withhold forgiveness, we choose to hold anger, cynicism, even judgment. We put ourselves in the unenviable position of being judge and jury.
Now, I get the resistance. Having withheld forgiveness, I know the palpable feeling of power I experienced holding within me the anger, the very real fantasies of revenge, the last vestiges of a self I managed to protect from the one who offended me. Forgiving meant giving up my self, I reasoned. It meant giving away my power, my fragile sense of control over a chaotic reality. Who’d be so idiotic?
I know how revenge can inhabit the body. It feels like a part of you that needs to be retained and held. One client said to me, “All I have over my abuser is my imagination. And in my imagination I exact my revenge.”
Forgiveness means slowly and steadily relinquishing this power. It’s not easy. It’s not sudden. If it can actually be called a ‘decision’, it’s one that you will feel utterly conflicted over.
As we forgive, we declare very courageously, “I release you from my need to exact revenge. I relinquish my futile attempt to overpower you, or humiliate you, or hurt you.”
As Dan Allender writes, “Forgiveness is the light that penetrates the dark and frees the somber, shamed heart to leap with love.”
And as our heart leaps, it also opens, albeit very slowly, to a new and spacious reality where we no longer need to be enslaved to our offender, and no longer need to be enslaved to ourselves.
The chains are broken, not by exacting revenge, but by relinquishing the need for it.
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