The Pace of Forgiveness
One day, a young boy was playing with his friend’s dog, rolling around on the ground with freedom and joy.
The next day, there was the same boy, same yard, and same dog. This time, something altogether different occurred as the boy rode his bike up to his best friend’s house; this time, the dog attacked the boy viciously, leaving many deep wounds. While the physical injuries took months to fully mend, it was the other wounds -- the kind that cannot be see on the outside -- that took far longer to heal.
And no amount of rushing could help speed along any of the healing processes that would eventually take place, the physical ones or those less visible. Indeed, the rushing itself led to more wounds. Prematurely stitching closed a large laceration, the boy’s doctor inadvertently created the perfect growing area for a massive infection. The traumatized boy then needed to heal not only the attack wounds, but now also an infection, and, eventually, a distrust of doctors that began with this incident.
All healing takes time. Physical wounds often need air and care and nurturing in order to heal.
Similarly, our emotional, psychological, mental, and spiritual wounds frequently require the exact same things: air and care and nurturing. That process almost always includes forgiveness (both of ourselves and of the person and/or situation), and forgiveness has its own pace.
When we do not allow our wounds to heal, when we “cover them over” with a light coating (of the denial or acceptance modes) rather than committing to the deep work required to truly and deeply forgive, we run the same risk of infection that happens when we attempt to close a lesion without allowing it to be fully cleansed and aired.
We then become infected by the very thing that we were trying to heal.
Others around us may encourage us to speed up the process. Sometimes, this is because they are concerned for us. We may be fixating on the pain and not working to create the space through which the grace of forgiveness can be showered and experienced.
At times, though, it feels like we want to rush one another through this process because of our own discomfort. Perhaps we want everyone in our lives to just play nicely and get along with one another, because we do not think we are able to sit in our own unease with the situation; perhaps we are uncomfortable with our own emotions that have arisen related to others and their forgiveness processes. A friend of mine gave me a beautiful gift one day; she knew that I had been struggling to forgive someone in my life, and she had become uncomfortable to find that I still had anger around the situation. “Amy,” she said, “I realized that I’m only uncomfortable with your anger, because I’m uncomfortable with my own anger.” The places where I was not yet able to forgive were resonating with those in her, and her initial response was to perhaps push those away. However, when she took the time and effort to really look into her reaction to my forgiveness process, she was able to open up her own wounds for the cleansing and nurturing of forgiveness, rather than sew them up tightly and pretend they did not exist.
So . . . how can we tell the difference between truly awaiting the gifts of forgiveness and just pretending that that’s what we are doing?
This is a tricky one. I certainly am not always able to determine this one for myself.
Our creative minds and egos are so brilliant at talking us into believing what serves to keep them in control, and that may mean that they do not serve us well when we attempt to determine our own motives, particularly in forgiveness work. There are a few questions I have begun to ask myself when I find forgiveness challenging and slow to arrive:
Am I working on this, really working, or merely cycling the same old stories?
Am I creating space into which forgiveness can be showered?
Am I playing a victim in order to protect myself?
How about the occasionally enticing role of Empowered Victim; have I fallen into that trap?
In short, is there anything that I am getting from not forgiving someone or something?
Sometimes, I am not pleased with the answers I find. Sometimes, my mind answers these questions in the way it thinks it is “supposed to”, as a good spiritual girl, but my body tells me something different.
And sometimes, I feel absolutely ill equipped to answer these questions.
So I ask my beloved allies, do you see me doing any of these things?
And I ask Spirit (or God or the Ground of All Being; I use all these terms and more).
Then I know whether it is time to really intensify my courage and close the wound . . . or if it still needs more care and nurturing.
Decades after being attacked by that beloved dog, the boy’s physical wounds have all healed, leaving beautiful scars on his arm and leg.
The other wounds have healed, also.
He was never able to heal his relationship with the dog that attacked him, because the owners euthanized the animal right after the attack. Although he forgave the dog for turning, in an instant, from his dear friend into a dangerous attacker, he could do so only in his heart, not in the flesh.
Similarly, we are sometimes not able to heal the wounds between ourselves and other humans. Perhaps they have died or left our lives in some other way. Maybe they do not want to heal. As in the boy’s case, we can then create forgiveness only in our hearts and not in the physical realm. However, since this is where we carry the wounds caused by the lack of forgiveness, it is enough to heal those heart wounds.
At it always happens at just the right time.