Recently Pope Francis expressed the need of church leaders to reach out to women who have had abortions and offer them forgiveness. Regardless of whether these women have done anything wrong or need to be forgiven I was struck by the power this has in it.
I found it powerful in his ability to offer words of compassion and love regardless of Pope Francis’ own moral compass.
In my experience I see forgiveness as a form of healing. When someone betrays you it is a way of healing that betrayal. It is not a form of weakness to forgive but a place of compassion. “I forgive your ill timed words, and I ask you not to say that to me again.” In forgiving we are moving out out of the pain that was caused and into a place of deeper connection.
Forgiveness is not about putting your authentic experience aside, but rather acknowledging and accepting while still remaining authentic.
It is acknowledging the hurt, anger, rage and other emotions that are there. These emotions can be expressed too, along with the forgiveness. Many times we let the hurt override the desire to reconnect and to be in relationship. Is it possible to show up in relationship still feeling hurt? Can you be there for your partner even when they did something that made you recoil in disgust?
These are difficult questions that are not easy to develop the capacity to handle. It is important to understand that our family, friends, children and partners are all human and capable of saying and doing challenging things. Forgiveness is a way of acknowledging this and moving forward in our lives.
Robert Karen, in his book, The Forgiving Self, has this to say:
“Without forgiveness there could be no allowance for human frailty. We would keep moving on, searching for perfect connections with mythical partners who would never hurt or disappoint. In that sense, forgiveness should be thought of not only as a discrete event but also as a way of being.”
I think this captures it perfectly.
Forgiveness is not something we are forced to do in the face of painful life occurrences. Forgiveness is the inevitable healing outcome from human imperfection. Mistakes are inevitable and forgiveness must come as a result.
The pain of not having forgiveness is losing trust and developing hostility for a loved one.
In my own life I was hurt and humiliated by a woman that had claimed she loved me. The resulting pain was unbearable. For a few years I carried this hurt around unwilling to let go and heal the wound by forgiving her. I was afraid to forgive because I was worried she wouldn’t have to pay for her treatment of me. But who really lost in all of this?
She went on with her life and I held on to all of the hurt. Forgiving her was like extinguishing a painful fire in my chest. It moved me out of hostility to freedom. Did anything change for this woman? Probably not, but things were immensely different for me.
If you are holding some resentment in your heart for someone, take some time to really look at it. I’m not saying you have to forgive. Just consider that forgiveness is not just about the person who impacted you. It is about your capacity to let go of painful experiences and move forward in your life – with more space to love and show compassion.