For the record, it's much easier to talk about forgiveness than to be the one who actually has to do the work of forgiving. I doubt that's a surprise to many of you, but it had to be said. I have had the opportunity to write about forgiveness a couple of times to a fellow blogger. And after a couple of comments, he even solicited my opinion about his final piece. I've written about the greatness of God's forgiveness, how the forgiving work is more about us letting go of the anger and resentment that is eating us alive, how we may never receive an apology from the other party, or how they may never accept our apology, and that that's okay because forgiveness is greater than that. All of those things are great, in the philosophical sense anyway. But forgiveness is a hard, hard practice.
Awhile back I was having major trouble with N. I resented him, was irritated, hurt, aggravated. And in the midst of my unforgiveness, I had the opportunity to see a spiritual director. It was a time of major upheaval in my life and I expected the spiritual direction would address issues with my call or my relationship with God. The SD and I talked for awhile, I cried, and then she had me do a guided meditation exercise. I lay on the floor with my hands at my sides and my eyes closed. She had me put my hand on my heart and call to mind an experience that had brought me great joy in the recent days and immediately I had a vision of hugging B and rubbing her pregnant belly. The SD told me to relish and feel that joy and then to let it go, to give it to God. Then she had me call to mind a painful experience and immediately I was struck by my interaction with N. I started to cry and again the SD encouraged me to really feel those emotions and then let them go. I don't remember well what the next few prompts were, only that it had to do with how I would be reconciled with N, or what needed to happen, and the vision I had was of me asking N for forgiveness for having a hard heart against him. That struck me. Big time. N had hurt me. N had wronged me, and I was supposed to be the one asking for forgiveness? Come on. I was not thrilled with the idea. The spiritual direction continued in a different vein and when I left I talked with a friend of mine and told her what I had seen. She said she'd had a similar experience with a colleague and had to ask her colleague for forgiveness in a similar way. I continued to protest. She said I could protest as long as I wanted to, but that eventually I'd need to do it.
I finally conceded and had the conversation. I can't say that it fixed everything for N and me, but it was helpful, and I felt like I had honored God by asking for forgiveness in the way I had seen it in my vision.
Well, it's forgiveness time again in my life. A few weeks ago I mentioned the insults that had been slung my way. I have mulled and fumed, pondered and debated the words that came my way. I continue to be angry and hurt. And quite frankly I have trouble wanting to go anywhere near this person. And yet, over the last few days, I haven't been able to get it out of my head that I need to ask for forgiveness for having a hardened heart and for being unwilling to offer grace and forgiveness. Regularly the conversation I work out in my head goes something like this: "I need to apologize to you because I've had a hardened heart toward you since you were an arrogant jerk and said such horrible things to me." Somehow, I think that misses the mark. Call me crazy. I really don't want to have this conversation, especially in many ways because he's the type that would easily assume I finally conceded he was right and saw the light. Wrong. He was still wrong, both in his words and in his approach. But I can't force him to apologize and it's only going to eat at my soul if I sit around and wait for him to do so.
I'm struggling between the notions of forgiveness and reconciliation. I believe they are two separate things (though they often go hand in hand). As a back story, my last year in seminary I dealt with some strange men, 3 strange men in particular. One was extremely lonely and became obsessive in his calling and refused to heed my requests for time and space away from him. The second was a narcissist who ended up stalking me relentlessly until I finally called in the higher ups. The third was an old man who decided he was entitled to me and whatever he wanted from me. He, too, called incessantly--in the end pleading for "reconciliation" (in the name of Christianity, of course). As I learned to honor myself and protect myself from those who did me emotional harm, I wrote this:
'I just want to be reconciled with you; will you pray for that?' Do you know what reconciliation means? Have you thought of what it entails? It is not simple or cheap. It is not an "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you" and a turn back to how things were. It demands repentance--change in direction--not the same as the old path. Reconciliation between us requires action from each of us. It requires grace and understanding, absolutely, but it also requires action and change. Reconciliation cannot truly take place if we simply return to old habits. Reconciliation is profound and powerful. So let us be reconciled, if you desire. You do your part and I'll do mine. You respect me and my wants and desires and I will honor you in our relationship. Neither of us can move forward if we continue to hold misconceptions, misinformation, prejudices, or hate from the past. We must clear a path down which we can walk toward greater connection, and wholeness in ourselves.
In dealing with L, man #3, I really struggled because the reconciliation he was asking for only involved action on my part. He wanted me to wipe the slate clean and for us to "move on from this." But not once was he actually repentant (not in my presence or to my knowledge anyway). Not once did he acknowledge any wrongdoing. Forgiving him, as I understand it, meant letting go of the anger, hurt, and frustration that were binding me. But reconciliation, that was a bigger deal--that involved some action, some commitment to change on his part.
Now, back to the present. I think in some ways I want to be reconciled with my current offender, but I don't know if I actually want to be reconciled, or if I really just want him to be repentant. Either way, I have tried to make my act of forgiveness contingent upon his acknowledgment of the wrong. And I really can't persist that way. Because, like I said, I have no control over that, and looking at the situation, it is unlikely it will actually happen. So I need to work on the forgiveness, the letting go, the giving over to God, and let God work with the rest of the situation from there. It is indeed hard work. Dreadful work in some instances. But I think the fear and dread of the hard work are actually more difficult than the work itself.
My prayer this sabbath day is that I actually would have an unhardened heart and be able to do this work of forgiveness.