The last post considered whether true forgiveness requires us to tell the people we’re forgiving that they are forgiven. The question arose out of a conversation with women in the county jail, and they shared several thoughtful observations.
One said that telling the person who had wounded her that she forgave past wrongs was an important point of closure to her painful past. What if the person who did wrong is dead, someone pondered. How do you get closure and healing then? One inmate created a memorial on paper to signify her forgiveness and peace with the past. It served to remind her that forgiveness was the demarcation between a past in which her choices were limited by her woundedness and a present in which she is free to choose who she wants to be. The memorial provided closure and healing without facing the other in person, something appreciably more difficult when one is incarcerated. Another inmate hoped that forgiveness would be a way to hold onto love, even if there was no way to hold onto the abusive relationship. There was also discussion about what to do if the forgiven person doesn’t have the capacity to receive forgiveness. Initiating contact with a violent abuser deeply mired in denial and blame, for example, can compromise one’s physical emotional safety.
This question comes up every time I lead a forgiveness workshop, and here’s my answer. No. You don’t have to tell the people who caused you harm that they are forgiven. Forgiveness is not a simple intellectual decision. Holding a grudge is sometimes described as eating rat poison and expecting the rats to die. As logical as that sounds, forgiveness involves more than logic. Resentment has tentacles that reach deep into our emotions and psyches. The tentacles wrap around our sense of fairness and cling tightly to our desire for accountability. The process of extricating them in forgiveness is a journey, and the journey most certainly takes longer when the offender lacks sincere remorse and has made no effort to amend past wrongs. Previous posts have described the process in five steps to forgiveness. When people ask me whether they have to tell, I encourage them not to worry about that but simply to take the next step on the journey. I promise that the question will look different at the end of the journey than it does at the beginning.
The truth is once resentment has truly been released—when we have let go of what we hoped for but never came to pass, our claim to hold the other to account, possibly trust or even the relationship itself—we care a lot less about what the offender thinks or knows. That’s because the process of forgiveness takes the offender and what he deserves out of the center of the matter and puts our spirituality there instead. When we can honestly say we care more about our own spiritual reality and our personal relationship with God than we care about what our offender deserves, we are on the home stretch to forgiveness.
Join the conversation. What difference has forgiveness made to you?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.