Archive for August, 2013
When I was a child, my father abandoned the family. Once I was grown and he did not have the pressures of parenthood, he came to me and asked for my forgiveness. I refused because I was so angry. Should I now ask my father to forgive me for not forgiving him when he asked?
You were not ready to forgive your father and now it seems that you are. Please forgive your father first, if you have not done so. Then go to him and ask for his forgiveness. Please be patient with him because he may be hurt by your earlier refusal. Also, please consider forgiving yourself for not forgiving him earlier. Please be gentle with yourself on this. After all, the hurt you suffered from your father is deep and you needed time to sort it all out.
What is resentment? It is the harboring of persistent ill will.
What is forgiveness? It is mercy on those who have been unfair to us.
There is no contradiction if we are in the process of forgiveness and have resentment, as long as we realize that one of our goals is the abandonment of that resentment.
There is no contradiction if we have some residual anger after we have forgiven, as long as that anger is not harsh toward the offender or toxic within ourselves.
Residual anger is not the same as resentment.
We have to be careful not to equate residual (non-toxic) anger and resentment. Otherwise, we pat ourselves on the back in the name of forgiveness when we are still poisoning ourselves and perhaps others.
We have to be careful not to equate forgiveness and a total absence of any anger whatsoever. Otherwise, we might condemn ourselves and feel guilt because we think we have not forgiven when we have.
A little anger left over is part of the imperfect human condition. Yes, we can continue to forgive, but we need not expect perfection today.
Beverly Donofrio is known for her best-selling memoir “Riding in Cars with Boys,” where she wrote about her experience as a teen mom. That book was made into a film starring Drew Barrymore in 2001.
She followed up with “Looking for Mary,” a memoir about her spiritual life. But just as she was taking the next step in her spiritual life, planning to join a monastery in Mexico, she was raped at knife point in her own home. But instead of succumbing to fear and shame, she fought back in her own way. Now she shares that story and her journey of healing through forgiveness in a new book called “Astonished: A Story of Evil, Blessings, Grace, and Solace.”
During an interview on NPR, Donofrio explained how she survived the rape by praying out loud the Hail Mary in Spanish:
“And he (the attacker) said, you’re praying, stop praying. And I said, I’m praying for you, which was a lie, and then I thought, well, it should be the truth. So then I said a Hail Mary interiorly, praying for him, that he see what he was doing, the wrong in it, and heal from whatever was making him do it. And then the next Hail Mary, I’m praying, please, Jesus, God, Mary, every angel, saint, dead relative, get this man out of my house.”
Surprisingly, the man backed off the bed and left.
The next day, Donofrio wrote an article for the local newspaper detailing her experience and offering advice for other women who might become victims of rape. Five days after the story ran in the newspaper, the man who attacked her was captured. He was the serial rapist who had been attacking women in the town for eight months, severely beating two of the women who had fought back.
Asked how she began the healing process. Donofrio said, “Well, you know, when you can’t forgive – and I couldn’t for a long time – it hurts you. It doesn’t hurt the person or anyone else. It’s you that it’s hurting, keeping negative, angry feelings alive. I mean, I couldn’t help those feelings. I was angry, but I did have the will. I knew that I wanted to forgive because I wanted to just let it go and get on. It took probably four years before this happened. And I do feel healed.”
Some people are perplexed that they can still feel some anger after they have worked so hard to forgive. Anger is not necessarily something that can go away by willing it away. It can take time to fade. So, ask yourself this question: Is the anger controlling me or am I in control of my anger? If you are the one in control, realize that you are well along the path of forgiveness.
Is it the case that to forgive someone that I actually have to have positive feelings toward her? I have been in a rather neutral emotional state toward her for a long time. Does this mean I have not forgiven? And is it possible to just remain in this neutral emotional state for the rest of my life?
Please think of forgiveness as a process. This means that there are different degrees of forgiveness, which can range from diminishing some anger (and only this) all the way up to a love for the one who hurt you (in the sense of being willing to serve him or her). Having neutral emotions is movement, if you started with deep anger. This does not mean that you will remain there. Movement toward positive emotions regarding the person may take time and work. If you keep working at the process of forgiveness and are motivated to continue, I doubt that you will remain in this neutral state for the rest of your life.