Should forgiveness be offered to everyone? Maybe, but in some situations it needs to be offered while you’re walking out the door!
My friend and colleague, the Rev. Kate Matthews-Huey of the Amistad Chapel in downtown Cleveland posted the following two very important questions to Fox 8’s Facebook page following this week’s airing of The Power of Forgiveness (part one).
“What if the perp is doing something in an ongoing way, so it’s not something in the past but has a life of its own? Also, are we required to let the offender know that we’re forgiving them? I’d appreciate your thoughts.”
Rev. Kate raises critical concerns for all of us and, particularly, for those who find themselves locked into abusive relationships or situations. Here are some quick and humble thoughts on forgiveness. I suspect, when you are done reading this, you may want to add some comments of your own.
Forgiveness 101: Let’s start by recalling forgiveness basics: First, forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning or even tolerating bad behavior, whether it is prior behavior or current. Instead, at the very least, forgiveness is interested in letting go of negative and, potentially, destructive thoughts such as anger or bitterness. Second, forgiveness is a process. Be patient with yourself. Letting go of anger other negative feelings takes practice and it takes time. Think of it like the instructions on your shampoo bottle: Rinse; repeat. Rinse; repeat. Lastly, ask God to help you do the hard work of releasing your negative emotions and God will!
Should I Stay or Should I Go? What about those times when someone is still in an abusive situation? Should that person still forgive the wrongdoer? Maybe. But if you are the one in who is being hurt, your forgiveness needs to be offered while you are walking out the door. Often people being abused remain in destructive relationships because they are overwhelmed by self-doubt, embarrassment or even shame, though, the abuse is not their fault. If this describes you, find a supportive pastor, church or a good friend to help you overcome your worry or guilt about leaving. There is no shame in walking away from an abusive marriage or destructive employer.
And even then, you may not want to extend forgiveness right away. Sometimes your anger is important! Holy anger helps us recognize those places in our lives where there is an injustice present or a wrong being done (for more on this, see, Gee Whiz, Lighten-Up, Jesus! a message about Jesus’ anger in the temple which I preached at the Old Stone Church in downtown Cleveland on March 8, 2015). Your anger may be like the friend who drops-by to tell you that there is something clearly wrong and to help you locate the issue with more precision. Just don’t let that anger take-up permanent residence in your life.
Face to Face Forgiveness: Do we need to need to let an offender know that we have forgiven or are forgiving them? There are no simple answers here. Not one size fits all. Nor is there always an opportunity to state your forgiveness to a perpetrator as was the case with the burglars who robbed my family and me which I mentioned in The Power of Forgiveness (part one).
However, in those cases where there is opportunity to directly extend forgiveness, can be a spiritual-therapeutic value for you both. Just make sure that person knows you are not approving of their destructive behavior but that your forgiveness is your choice not to let their abusive words or behaviors have a power or influence in your life anymore.
Lastly, remember that the work of forgiveness is an act of love. It holds out the possibility of reconciliation and healing for yourself and for the one(s) who have hurt you. It’s the only road that leads to peace following a conflict.
When the Amish community in Nickel Mines, PA, forgave the mentally-ill man who stormed their one room school house and shot ten girls, killing five of them, and then killed himself, they exteneded forgiveness not to sanction his actions but because they knew that they could not move forward in peace, nor could the man’s widow or children, if the journey of forgiveness was not begun together. Moreover, their pardon was more than words. Many from the Amish community attended the funeral of the killer, Charles Roberts. They also raised money to support his family.
Ultimately offenders will need to do the work of accepting forgiveness from God and forgiving themselves (check out The Power of Forgiveness part two next week). In the meantime, forgiveness might be the gift you offer them as signs of your own peace, as well as, your intention to allow love to work within and through you!
Forgive Others Their Sins: You might consider that the very first directive Jesus gave the church after the resurrection was to “forgive people their sins” (John 20:23). For Jesus, forgiveness was about reconciling the world to God, about bringing ultimate peace to the world and healing to all. When we extend forgiveness to others, we participate in that immense, mysterious Christ-love.
Of course, we are just skimming the surface here but I hope these cursory thoughts help those of you who are hurting begin the process of healing and reconciliation, or supports those of you who have already begun the journey, rinsing and repeating, in your lives. Perhaps you will join the conversation and offer some of your thoughts and experiences on the subject of forgivness. Thanks, Rev. Kate for raising such important questions for us!
Dr. Mark Giuliano, Pastor
The Old Stone Church, Cleveland