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Thoughts on Forgiveness

Shared by Anita Freer

Bits of Shrapnel

I have been wrestling with forgiveness as it relates to a particular situation in my life. My struggle reminds me of the story of Jacob in Genesis 32:22–32, where Jacob wrestles with God, or an angel, or simply another man (the story is not exactly clear on that) and he ultimately prevails and is blessed. God or the angel in the story can represent anything we are struggling with in our own lives. Jacob and God wrestle all night, in the darkness, and ultimately Jacob prevails when the light of day comes. Jacob does not come out completely unscathed though, as he has an injured hip. He does, however, end up with a new name (Israel) and thus a new identity. Jacob’s angel story feels familiar to me…he evolves through time and struggle, in the same way we all do. And things look and feel different to us in the light of day versus the dark of night. Those of us who have stayed up all night fretting over something can attest to this!

Forgiveness has not been a huge struggle for me until this point in my life. Not to say that I was never hurt, but most of the time the hurts were not as close as this one. I think it is tougher to forgive those closest to us as they have the greatest ability to hurt us. Someone very close to me recently bulldozed through my life and left me in emotional ruins. I told that person that I forgave him fairly soon after this happened…and I really meant it at the time. Since then, I have noticed moments of bitterness and anger in my heart, and I have come to realize that I haven’t fully forgiven if I am still reacting with bitterness when memories come to me or when his name is brought up in conversation. I think what I meant at the time I told him that I forgave him was that “I want to forgive you.”

My goal is to reach a point where I don’t have anger when I think of this person or talk about him. I don’t know when or if I will ever reach that point. As author Matthew Kelly says, “even long after you think you’ve forgiven someone, you can notice bits of shrapnel still lingering in your heart that need to be removed.”

Jesus has a lot to say about forgiveness. We could take up an entire page citing New Testament verses about forgiveness (there is much about forgiveness in the Old Testament too, but I digress). His message of forgiveness culminates at his crucifixion when he calls out to God to forgive his crucifiers, those that were mocking him, flogging him, and casting lots for his clothing. In the midst of his excruciating pain, Jesus recognized that the people did not understand what they were really doing. He asked his Father to intercede.

So, if Jesus can forgive his crucifiers, it seems that I should be able to figure this out - to drum up the ability to forgive. The problem is that I cannot do it on my own volition. If that worked, the forgiveness would have already happened.

A friend of mine offered a suggestion to me that has served me well. She suggested that, for now, the desire to forgive is all I need. Having the desire is sufficient. So, I have offered up that desire to forgive every night in prayer. I have told God that is all I know to do. This is followed by a few minutes in quiet contemplation, with no agenda other than remaining quiet. Sometimes in the quiet there are small, what I call "nudges" that I can sense.

After having offered up my desire to forgive every night for a while (Father, forgive him, for he knows not what he does) something happened that helped remove some of this “shrapnel” from my heart. It was a stormy Friday night that would later turn into a nightmare of a tornado outbreak across several southern states. Early on in the storms, this person that I want to forgive sent me a text instructing me to watch the weather. Later, he texted again and said there was a rotating storm cell about a half mile to my west. At first, I suspected he was just trying to scare me. After all, there were several things that I suspected he had done recently to scare me or cause me headaches. I pulled up my weather app and I discovered that, sure enough, there was a rotating cell very close to me. I would not have known if he hadn’t texted me. What I realized after that text is that he does care enough about me to not want bad things to happen to me, even though we cannot have a friendship or be close any longer.

For whatever reason, that text has marked a turning point for me in my journey toward forgiveness. I believe that, because I had offered up my willingness to forgive during prayer, I became open enough to the idea of forgiveness that I was able to see the true motivation behind his text. I usually automatically steer toward negative thoughts when anything to do with him pops up in my life…but not this time. Well, to clarify that statement, I started with negative thinking/feeling when I first got the text, but once I realized it was done out of concern for me, all of the negativity melted away.

Can I honestly say that I have forgiven him 100% now and that process has come to a conclusion for me? No, I can’t say that. To be honest, I am really not sure if or when the process will end. What I can say is that I have made a huge leap in the direction of forgiveness simply by being open to the possibility that everything he says or does might not be for the purpose of hurting me. I have made progress in my quest to forgive as the result of this incident (an incident I label as a “nudge from God”), which is one step toward wholeness for me. The key is to work in partnership with God.

I know that forgiveness is for my benefit, not the other person’s. The shrapnel in my heart only slices my own heart and not anyone else’s. That is why I am working towards it and remaining willing and open to new avenues that will lead me further along the road toward forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a process, not an event. So, if you can relate to my story in any way, take heart in knowing that it takes time. I can’t specify how long, because I’m not at the end yet, but peace can be found in being open to a nudge or two from God. We have to be quiet enough to recognize these little nudges, accept them and let the pieces of shrapnel fall away. Maybe this is how we gain a new - or renewed - happiness like Jacob did.

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