Spiritual maintenance starts with a candid look inward. For some people, taking an inner inventory feels cathartic and liberating. For those who are approaching a major life change, introspection can reveal truths that validate their new direction and propel them towards it. It can give them a new energy and peace for the next life stage. For others, however, there is just too much pain in the past to confront it all at once. Twelve Step recovery seekers sometimes describe the Fourth Step “searching and fearless moral inventory” as an onion with layers. If one doesn’t have the capacity to cut to the core all at once, he peels back as much as he can handle, and then returns to peel back more as he is able.
Some people take this onion layers approach not only to introspection but also to forgiveness. Forgiving is a key ingredient for healing and spiritual growth. It is also an obligation in several faith traditions. Medieval Rabbinic authority Maimonides instructed:
“The offended person is prohibited from being cruel in not [forgoing the other’s indebtedness], for this is not the way of the seed of Israel. Rather, if the offender has [resolved all material claims] and has asked and begged for forgiveness once, even twice, and if the offended person knows that the other has done repentance for sin and feels remorse for what was done, the offended person should offer the sinner [forgiveness.]”
The stakes are even higher on forgiveness in the Christian tradition. Scripture makes clear that forgiveness requires forgiving and that God extends it under no other terms.
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)
For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James2:13)
Even with intellectual assent to the moral obligation of forgiveness, and an earnest desire to be rid of resentment, releasing it in the act forgiveness can take time. Resentment acts like terrible blinders that restrict our view. After releasing resentment for some aspects of wrongdoing, other more subtle aspects of the offense may come into view. That gives us yet another opportunity to release resentment in deepening forgiveness.
Progress on the spiritual journey is individual. Our eyes might be opened to great spiritual insights in a flash, and we may wander in a wilderness of uncertainty for long periods. One child abuse survivor shared her story of coming into the ability to forgive her abuser suddenly and unexpectedly on this blog several months ago. Whether your ability to release resentment deepens with effort over time or arrives all at once in an unexpected moment, forgiveness lightens our load on the journey.
Join the conversation. Have you ever discovered something you thought you had forgiven lurking in your psyche?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.