I’ve been talking about peacemaking, and peacemaking starts in our own hearts. As
Christians, we are commanded to forgive, but often we are not taught how.
I had trouble learning forgiveness because it seemed to me to mean that other people could
torment me without limit and without consequence and I was supposed to accept it
passively and pretend that it was okay. It took a long time to understand that it was
something very different. Forgiveness is a form of healing and involves taking seriously
how we were hurt and how we were wronged.
“Don’t Forgive Too Soon” by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn, gives
a lot of practical thought about what to do and what stages one might go through in the
process of forgiveness. They talk about “denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and
acceptance.” They also talk about taking steps to prevent future hurt from those who have
“No Future Without Forgiveness” by Desmond Tutu talks about the experience of apartheid
and the Truth and Reconciliation committee. I had known that apartheid was bad, but I was
amazed just how horrible things were, the magnitude of the evil and cruelty. Then the new
government came, and the challenge of dealing with the past and all those who had
committed crimes in the previous regime, many of them heinous beyond belief. The
decision was made that the people who had committed crimes in the past could come before
the committee, admit what they had done, and receive immediate amnesty. Obviously, this
was highly controversial, but he explains how they decided it was the better way to go and
would leave them with a better outcome. It is mightily inspiring.
“The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond and Mpho Tutu continues with practical advice on
how to forgive, giving four steps:
- Tell your story
- Name the pain
- Grant forgiveness
- Renew or release (end) the relationship.
They emphasize that it “takes as long as it takes.” Consider that granting forgiveness may
begin with desire to forgive, and only later comes the ability to forgive from the heart. It
may not ever start there; we may first have to decide to seek the desire to forgive, being
currently full of desire to destroy the other person. The process may or may not involve the
other person, having no guarantee they will even agree they did anything wrong.
Sometimes forgiveness is not something that happens between people, but within oneself. If
we have no one else to tell our story to, we can always tell it to God.
“Remembering God’s Mercy” by Dawn Eden describes her journey from being abused to
being healed, and how her journey to Catholicism had helped her. She talks a lot about
memory, and says that we don’t ask God to take away painful memories, but to help us
remember them in a new way, as part of our journey with him.
Once again, as we seek to be peacemakers, we start with our own hearts.