I've thought a lot about forgiveness in the past few months - as evidenced by the fact that I'm writing about it, yet again. Oftentimes these posts are my way of trying to work out what's happening with me. The topics of forgiveness, redemption, healing and resolving one's past have been on my mind continually in the past few weeks. Some of my obsession with this topic is deeply personal. Some of it relates to the work I do some days as a guardian for kids who have been the victims of abuse. Still more of it relates to my own children and what I hope and want for them.
I traveled to Philadelphia this past week. It was a nice break. I went with an old friend, and I laughed harder and longer than I have in years. Between laughs, we had some serious discussions about love and life. We also went into some old cathedrals - one of my favorite things to do. Our last stop before leaving the city was to go into the art museum. I wanted to see a painting I've always admired, but I ended up being drawn to a very different painting. One that echoed the theme of my life right now - healing and redemption. It was a beautiful image of Jesus healing people at the shore of what I assume was the Sea of Galilee. The sun was either rising or setting in the background - it was hard to tell which. An incredibly moving painting.
As I drove home the last 6 hours by myself, I listened to The Shack on CD. I had read the book over a year ago, but thought it would be interesting to listen to in the car to pass the time. The most intense parts had me weeping hard and long. It is such an amazing and moving story. The part though that struck me in this "reading" was an exchange about forgiveness. God is asking the man in the story to forgive the man who raped and murdered his child. As I listened to the narrator, the tears poured from my eyes. Does God really understand what He/She is asking of this man or of so many of us?
As the protagonist struggles with God's desire that he forgive the man who harmed his child, God takes center stage in the book and explains that forgiveness is not what I (or the main character) perhaps perceives it to be. It is not about forgetting. It is not about relationship. God in the book describes it as "removing your hands from around another person's throat so that he can be redeemed." This isn't the warm, fuzzy, sentimental image I have of forgiveness. And perhaps therein lies my struggle.
I often feel that if I forgive my ex-husband for his actions (or at times inaction), then that means we have to return to some sort of relationship. And I know that I'm not at a place where I can handle that. In the book, God assures the man that is not what forgiveness is. Rather for relationship to be restored, the person who has transgressed must choose change and repentance as well. In addition, God tells the man that forgiveness doesn't mean excusing the bad behavior or allowing it to happen again.
All of this brings me around to the topic of resolution or reconciliation. I had an interesting discussion with a friend about whether it is possible for us (or anyone) to really resolve old trauma or past bad experiences so they no longer impact or affect us? I told my friend that I didn't particularly like the word "resolve." To resolve something, in my experience, suggests that something has been dealt with and is now shelved away, never to be considered again. And honestly the worst hurts we experience can't be resolved, or at least I haven't figured out a way to do that yet. My own life has shown me time and again that some of those old hurts will re-surface on occasion, and not always in a horrible, crippling way. Sometimes I think the hurt has re-surfaced because it can be used in a new and different way now. That somehow I've been underwent a transformation that allows me view it in a different light now.
What I do think can happen is that we can experience a reconciliation with regards to these traumas. I don't mean reconcile in the way that we often use that term - to reconcile oneself to a life of difficulty. No, the reconciliation I mean is the true meaning of the word for me...to feel put back together - to feel some harmony, some sychronicity. Not a denial of the experience, not a minimizing of it (it wasn't so bad, really...), but also not an overdramatization of the experience or the myth created around the experience. No, I really do mean to bring oneself back into right relationship - with oneself and with God. To allow the experience to be what it was, a bad experience of life, but to not allow it to define my very existence in this life.
Certainly I don't mean to minimize how hard I think reconciliation really is. It requires a suspension of judgment that I am unaccustomed to being able to pull off in my own life. It calls for the ability to confront the feelings and emotions that come with the experience and not run away. It is hard work, and I am in no way saying I've mastered it. Yet, I am beginning to understand that reconciliation is possible for me, for me and God and for me and my life's events that have been difficult and painful.
While I still can't say I've had my "a-ha" moment regarding being able to forgive a few of those who have hurt me deeply, I can say that the experiences themselves are changing shape and form for me. I no longer feel paralyzed or held hostage by those moments. I feel differently about how things look and feel around the experiences. I feel redeemed.