A recent post on new year’s resolutions invited contemplation regarding whether there is forgiveness you need to receive or to extend. A wise commenter responded with thoughts on what forgiveness really is. Here, in part, is what she said:
I once read that the definition of true forgiveness is to no longer see the other person as wrong! Wow! I mean if I didn’t think that they were wrong to begin with, I wouldn’t have a need to forgive them right? But now if I have to no longer believe that they are wrong, well, that puts a whole new spin on forgiveness doesn’t it? When God forgives us, he wipes the slate clean. The bible says it’s as if the sin had never been…yep, that pretty much says I am not wrong. I have a completely new beginning. I think that’s the forgiveness that God want’s from us as well. To wipe the slate clean towards our brother, as if the infraction had never been…as if they had never wronged us!
That is a challenging definition of forgiveness, indeed. To contrast that with a different thought, I’ll refer to Curtis Almquist, another spiritual thinker I very much admire. In Unwrapping the Gifts: The Twelve Days of Christmas, Almquist examines the etymology of forgiveness and suggests it is not about forgetting. We’re often urged to forgive and forget, but is that as powerful as forgiving and remembering? To remember the offense in all its meanness, thoughtlessness, malice or spite, and nevertheless in the very presence of that reality, to release resentment and all claim against the offender can be a greater offering and act of love than somehow vanquishing the offense from our consciousness. Some may be able to blot out the offense as if it never happened when releasing resentment, but for me personally it sounds like a slippery slope towards repression and denial. I am one of those challenged by the “forget” part.
Almquist helps by pointing to the blessing in the tensions we feel with those who give us a reason to forgive or those with whom we don’t get along. He calls them “enemies,” a strong word but the one Jesus used for all who fall outside the categories of family, friend and neighbor.
I’ve changed my mind about enemies in several ways. For one, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, not because it makes for more pleasant living (although undoubtedly it does). Rather, we’re told to love our enemies because they may also be our teachers, perhaps even our best teachers. Our enemies can get us in touch with “our stuff” like no one else can… Our enemies expose us, and I believe that they are extraordinary agents for our own conversion.
In this new year of life, as we reflect on where we’re headed and what is in our way, perhaps we can hold up, appreciate, and even love those people who are burrs under our blankets for the insight with which they grace us on our journeys.
Join the conversation. Who is your fellow traveler who best exposes the life change your soul craves?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.