I'm terrible at forgiveness. I'm great at excusing away behaviors that are not helpful.
"Oh, he grew up with a dysfunctional family. His father abused him and his siblings."
"Oh, she grew up in a family that never encountered people of other races."
"I understand that in a society of bigots how bigotry is just normal."
"We only have to show people a different way."
This is also the way I treat people who do me personal harm. I excuse. I understand. I explain away all the hurt...
BUT - BUT when someone crosses a line that I did not even realize I had and are just plain-out mean and selfish, I have an impossible time forgiving.
We've seen this at the Capitol in Washington. People - newscasters - explaining all the bizarre behavior from people who blindly follow Pres. Trump and who hold to the QAnon conspiracy theories. But on the 6th of January the line was crossed.
|6 January 2021 - breaking into the Capitol - Shutterstock licensed photo|
Many have called for healing in the nation. Many have called for ignoring what happened and moving on.
But here's the rub.
There can be no healing unless the blood-coated bandage is ripped off and the wound cleaned out and treated.
There can be no moving on until there is accountability.
Forgiveness starts with confession. To receive forgiveness we have to first acknowledge our guilt.
The word "guilt" has gotten a bad rap by people feeling laden down with the burden of guilt. But guilt can be good. It can serve as a catalyst for change.
Society can say to a person, "What you have done is wrong" and "Whether you think so or not, we find you guilty."
Change is the next step.
But society as a rule doesn't forgive. When society finds a person guilty it wants revenge. And with revenge, change never comes.
Revenge is a vicious spiral downward into the depths of hell.
This does not mean that I think that accountability should not be applied. It should.
Good parenting teaches consequences for certain actions but with love and forgiveness.
Can you imagine a good mother or father exacting revenge on their child?
Working for change is redemptive.
In college when I realized that "yes, I am racist in many ways and yes, I had profited all my life by being white and yes this was wrong", I felt tremendous guilt; a heavy burden of guilt rested on my shoulders.
To ease the burden I began to change my ways - my assumptions - my actions. Real change relieves guilt and I've felt the forgiveness of many people of color.
So why is it so hard for me to forgive?
For a long time I thought that my "excuses" of others were forgiveness, my "understanding" or my "empathy" were forgiveness... until my line was crossed.
And the first time it happened the anger in me grew and grew.
I couldn't and didn't break relations with the person, but over the years the anger ate at me.
Finally with no confession from the person... no hint that they thought they might be wrong, though we had talked often... one night as I lay in my bed... I felt the grace given to my hurt soul to forgive.
And I understood forgiveness was mine to give and not only receive.
It is still hard for me to forgive... but I do now know that that is the only way to live without anger and hate.
The only way.