I am no expert on forgiveness.
It is true I can muster up a list of grievances against life. I have felt wronged by circumstances and people. My home has twice been broken into and robbed; I have on occasion been cheated, slandered, gossiped about, and even betrayed. But the litany of wrongs I have suffered is pretty minor compared to the heart-wrenching grief inflicted on many people through no fault of their own.
So, anything I might say about forgiveness should be taken with the awareness that I write from a position of privilege and protection. I have no superior claim to pain from which to speak about this difficult subject.
Forgiveness is a delicate topic. It needs to be approached cautiously, respectfully and with deep sensitivity for the difficult realities people endure.
When you hear anyone speak about forgiveness, you need to listen with the firm awareness that your experience is your experience. You need to honour your experience and allow yourself to be where you are on your journey. Be gentle with yourself. Distance yourself from anyone who tries in any way to take away, diminish, or discount what you know deep in your innermost being to be true for you.
If I know anything about forgiveness, I know it is a process. And all people are at different places in their journey to forgiveness.
There is no road map. There are no timetables, no essential stations along the way at which every traveler must stop. It is a personal journey. You will only make your way successfully if you fully take in and respect each stopping point to which you come when you get there.
The attempt to mandate one pattern or one program inflicts terrible violence on people who are struggling to come to grips with the pain they experience. We all process pain differently.
The journey to forgiveness starts in darkness, confusion, and doubt. How could this happen? The pain is real and disorienting.
I often react by clenching and withdrawing. At all costs I want to avoid this pain that feels as if it has the power to destroy me. I seek to build a protective wall behind which to find a sense of safety and security against any further hurt. I start with resistance. I reject the pain. I hunker down in the fortress of resentment, bitterness, and anger.
From this braced position, I seek to acquire power. I want to retaliate. I have been wronged. I need to get even. What has happened is not fair. They must be made to pay. Things need to be put right.
And so, the cycle of violence spins on in an endless rhythm of hurt.
This is where the journey to forgiveness starts. I move forward on this journey as I surrender my need for the world to be different than it is. The journey will grind to a halt unless I see the price I pay for insisting that reality change to suit my needs.
I move closer to forgiveness when I acknowledge where I am on the road and determine to take the next step of which I feel capable now, no matter how small it may seem at the time.
Wendell Berry understood the importance of honouring our inner journey:
A Spiritual Journey
by Wendell Berry
And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,
no matter how long,
but only by a spiritual journey,
a journey of one inch,
very arduous and humbling and joyful,
by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,
and learn to be at home.