Monday, March 3, 2014

Forgiveness, Part VII

So here we are again on forgiveness.  I saw, and then shared forward a quote I saw on facebook that said, "Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different."  The timing of my seeing the post was such that it almost felt like it could have been sent just to me in that moment.  I've been struggling, once again, with forgiveness.  I preached on it last week, I know what God would say, I know we are called to forgive.  I know we must do this in order to heal ourselves.  I know we must let go of the past, we must learn to be okay with what has already come to pass, and we must gracefully accept the humanity and imperfection of ourselves and everyone else.  I know this.  I believe it.  I preach it.  I trust it.  Does that mean I can always do it?  No.

I strive to.  I struggle to.  I realize the person I hurt when I can't let go is myself (and sometimes others as well!).  But that doesn't change the fact that I just can't always forgive.  As much as I want to, as much as I need to, there are times I just can't let go of my anger, or, more often, hurt; when I simply cannot find the peace I seek in relationship to others or to myself.

And as I struggled with this quote and with concepts of forgiveness, I realized that for me, it really isn't so much about the past as about the present.  If something has happened in the past that is truly over, that no longer carries current consequences, I really can let go of it, forgive it.  But if it continues to affect the present... In other words I would change that sentence.  I would say, "Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the present could be different."  Of course we have some recourse always to change the present that may be making us unhappy.  But what if we feel that we've done everything we could to reconcile a situation and still are unable to do so?  Those are the hardest situations for me to come to peace with.  When I have tried to make amends, when I have asked forgiveness for my part in the situation, when I have accepted the terms as presented to me by the other, but those terms still make me uneasy, unhappy, still lack resolution or even worse, reconciliation, what am I then to do?  How do we forgive ourselves or those around us when we remain uneasy and unreconciled with the current reality?

I've also been thinking about the Corrie Ten Boom story that I shared in my last posted sermon.  It was nearly impossible for her to extend forgiveness to the guard who asked for her forgiveness.  But she was able to do it.  Still, she had been preaching forgiveness before he approached her.  So I assume that before he made his way to her, she had believed she had forgiven those guards.  It therefore must be different in the hypothetical than in the real.  The past guard did approach her though, and ask her forgiveness and she had to come to terms with the reality of what it is to forgive, in the flesh, this person who had so hurt her.  And she did.  But what if she had seen him and never been approached?  What if he had never asked forgiveness?  What if, instead, he had become concrete - standing there in front of her, but still not acknowledging his need for forgiveness or asking her to extend her forgiveness to him?  For me, the people it is hardest to forgive are the ones who cannot acknowledge their part in a situation, who never see or own that they have done damage.  Every situation involves at least two people.  And while the blame may be unbalanced, one may carry the large part of the fault and the other the minimal amount, each relationship and situation does involved two or more people.  It just does. But not everyone is in a place where they can see their own contribution.  And not everyone can or does ask for forgiveness.

And still, we are called to forgive.
We are called to forgive even when it is not asked for.
We are called to forgive even when we cannot give up the hope of a present that is different.
We are called to forgive those who remain distant, a memory, a hypothetical,
and we are called to forgive those who stand in front of us, whether they ask for forgiveness or not.
We are called to forgive those we love,
and we are called to forgive those we hate.
We are called to forgive the other.
And we are called to forgive ourselves.

I'm reminded once again of the following words from Susan Werner.

Forgiveness – Susan Werner

 How do you love those who never will love you?
 Who are happy to shove you out in front of the train
 How do you not hate those who would leave you lie bleeding
 While they hold their prayer meeting

 How do you love those who never will love you
 Who are so frightened of you they are calling for war
 How do you not hate those who have loaded their Bibles
 And armed their disciples, cuz I don't know anymore

 And I can't find forgiveness for them anywhere in this
 And with God as my witness I really have tried
 How do you love those who never will love you
 I think only God knows and he is not taking sides
 I hope one day he shows us how we can love those
 Who never will love us but who still we must love.

And in the end, for me, all I can do is keep praying about it, keep asking for the strength, the courage, the wisdom and the peace to be able to accept a present that is not what I would want, and to be able therefore to forgive, completely, wholly, and unconditionally.  I ask for the strength to forgive the other even when it is not sought, or returned and even when their part is not seen or acknowledged.  I ask for the courage to forgive myself even when I cannot fix the damage I have done.  I ask for the peace to accept what is, past, present and future with grace.  I ask for God's love to overcome my own limitations in loving.