Barriers to Forgiveness
Barriers to Forgiveness, Part 10: Inexperience
Sometimes a person is not stubbornly closed to consider forgiveness. Sometimes a person is not distorting the meaning of forgiveness or being distracted or even too impatient to walk its path. Sometimes a person even knows the path of forgiveness….but is not forgivingly fit enough to walk it well. Sometimes a person just has not had the experience to get it right. As an analogy, a person might want to join in the marathon run, but has never trained for one. All of the good intentions in the world, all of the knowledge in the world, will not aid the person in finishing the task. It can be the same with forgiveness. The person may have read about “bearing the pain” and understand what this is and what it is not, but it remains strangely vague and unfamiliar because of a lack of experience with it. The person needs practice for it to become familiar.
We all need to be schooled in the art of forgiveness to be able to find and stay on the path and then to complete the journey. Forgiveness education is one way for children, adolescents, and adults to learn about forgiveness…..to practice it and then to practice it some more…….before tragedy strikes, before confusion and discouragement set in. We have the opportunity to help youth overcome a major barrier to forgiveness—inexperience—by helping them to learn about forgiveness, and to practice it, and to become proficient at it. Can you see the great advantage of meeting injustice while a person already is forgivingly fit, being familiar with the “how to” of forgiveness? We need forgiveness education…..now.
Barriers to Forgiveness, Part 9: Impatience
Patience. To forgive requires much patience because we cannot rush the process; we cannot will the end of the pain; we cannot automatically change the one who hurt us. Patience with perseverance…..and an acceptance of the suffering are keys.
When we have impatience with the forgiveness process we are misunderstanding what the process is. It unfolds. We do not rush through it. I have come to realize that this unfolding, this waiting for relief from the suffering, is a time of strengthening. It is a time of learning a greater humility. We are not the ones who always are in control.
In the waiting comes wisdom. We learn more about ourselves and our ability to endure even when there is great pain. We learn who other people are. They can hurt us, but ultimately they cannot destroy us from our inside because we see our own strength developing. Out of waiting comes a stretching of our patience and a shrinking of our impatience. Out of waiting comes growth as persons.
Barriers to Forgiveness, Part 8: Pleasure-Seeking
Last week, I was on an airplane to New York City. At one point, I started to flip through the airline magazine and this is what I found: page after page was filled with self-indulgences of every kind imaginable. There were waterfalls and fancy restaurants and fine chocolates and the newest fashions. Not once was there a message of self-sacrifice or service to others. I guess such self-sacrifice is not profitable.
The message of self-indulgence stayed with me. If we are bombarded with constant messages of pleasure, will we become a society that exalts this to a norm, in which pleasure-seeking becomes an accepted way of life? If so, we may stop examining the assumption that a pleasure-seeking life is one that is not worth living, if our goal is genuine happiness. When we stop such an examination and give in to pleasure all the time, we may find life to be rather meaningless. After all, what does one do when all the chocolates are gone or the trip to the hidden chalet is over and the new fashion is, well, not so fashionable any more?
Forgiveness as self-sacrificial service to others is a message diametrically opposed to the messages in that airline magazine. OK, so I am fuming at her injustice…..pass the bon-bons. OK, so I am enraged with his firing me……let’s go on a trip. Pleasure-as-diversion can hide the pain in need of cleansing. Pleasure-as-self-help may weaken the will to fight for mercy and forgiveness. One’s energy to be in service to others may weaken.
Hard work and pleasure-seeking surely can be in balance in a full life. The magazine did not give such a balanced message. That made me worry……for forgiveness…..for strong wills to give of ourselves even when it is not pleasurable to do so. May we never over-indulge in pleasure to the point of losing our way with forgiveness, which, in the long run, may produce much more happiness than one more chocolate with an orange center.
Barriers to Forgiveness, Part 7: The Weak vs. Strong Will
Never giving up. Perseverance. The strong will. Forgiveness is hard work and the more severely you are hurt by another person’s injustice, the harder will be you work. It is too easy to enter forgiveness with a kind of euphoria, full of hope that all will be well soon. As you then start to sprint, you realize that you are in a marathon……not a sprint. It is then that your strong will has to come into the picture to aid you in continuing to practice forgiveness until you make significant progress.
Learning to forgive those who hurt you deeply is analogous to starting a physical fitness program. You may start with a light heart and much enthusiasm, and these wane as the exercises get routine, as the muscles get sore, as the enthusiasm melts. It is then that sheer determination must help you through. It is similar with forgiveness. After a while, the practice of forgiveness may become a chore rather than an enthusiastic exercise of hope. Please note that the perseverance is well worth the pain of continuing the marathon. After a while you will notice an emotional strength building in you. After a while you will see that you are now stronger than the hurts against you. After a while you will see that through the exercise of your strong will, you are now forgivingly fit. Let the strong will help you to complete the journey of forgiveness.
Barriers to Forgiveness, Part 6: Presuming that You Have Finished the Process
“Ahhh…..I’m glad that’s over!!” How many times have I heard that….and even said it to myself. We sometimes fool ourselves into thinking that if we go through a forgiveness process, such as the one outlined in the book, The Forgiving Life, then all is well and we are healed.
Yet, because forgiveness is a process that takes time, we cannot presume that if we go through that process once with a particular person in mind, then the journey is over. Forgiveness is not that simple for the deep injustices of life.
I was talking with a psychiatrist friend recently and he said this: “Sometimes I tell my patients that they will have to be working on the process of forgiveness for the rest of their lives.” He was not implying that they will never reach the goal of forgiveness. Instead, he was suggesting two things: a) Even when we have forgiven, the anger can creep back into our hearts and that is the time to open the door once again to forgiveness and b) As we forgive, we go deeper into its meaning and in new discoveries about the process; thus, as we continue to develop we have not finished forgiveness or perhaps forgiveness has not yet finished with us.
So, do not grow discouraged if you have been slammed by injustice. The road to forgiving will get easier and more familiar…..but at the same time you may be on that road for the rest of your life. Take heart because this is not a burdensome road. What happened to you may be burdensome, but the process of discovery about whom the other person is, about who you are as a person, and about humanity itself is filled with fresh and healing insights. After all, when you walk the path of forgiveness, you are walking in love. This is not such a bad path to be on, right?
Enjoy the journey of forgiveness.