Forgiveness is NOT a Magic Bullet

I hereby extend National Grouch Day to a week.  No, how about a month? This is my not subtle way of warning you that I am still “in a mood”.

Jiri Hodan

The subject of forgiveness came up at church today…not just forgiveness, but specifically about people who have been abused forgiving their abusers.  How is it that well-meaning people can say such utterly painful things?  The crazy thing is that what was said was true to a point.  I would submit that it is just not as simple as people make it seem and that is what drives me crazy.  Did I raise my hand and explain this?  No…because I was very angry and who is going to believe a raving lunatic?  So I did the next best thing…I went to the bathroom and cried.  At some point on any given Sunday these days you can find me in the bathroom crying.  It’s pitiful, I know.

Would you be willing to humor me as I try to explain why forgiveness, although a true principle, is not a magic bullet?

Yes?  Ah, I knew I could count on you!  I will begin by explaining that I actually do believe in forgiveness.  My previous ramblings may have led you to believe otherwise, but I hope this post will clear everything up for you…and perhaps me.

In the Old Testament, there is a wonderful story about forgiveness.  Truly it has become one of my favorite scripture stories.  (Many thanks to James Ferrell in his book, The Peacegiver, who pointed it out to me.)  The story is in 2 Kings somewhere….it seems that David…the killer of giants…had to go into hiding for a time because King Saul was jealous of him.  During that time, David acquired a following, and they made their living by guarding sheep for a wealthy man called Naman.  Apparently sheep theft by lawless highway men was a big problem during those times.  Everything went as planned (meaning David and his men did their job well) until it came time for Naman to pay (a previously agreed upon price).  Naman pretended not to know who the men were and called them thieves and highway man and refused to pay them.

When David heard this news, he was furious (understandably).  He gathered his men and they prepared to march on Naman’s house and kill every man in the household.  Along the road, however, Naman’s wife, Abigail met the men.  She apologized, and asked David to forgive her.  She brought with her everything that Naman had agreed to pay.  David accepted Abigail’s offering and turned away from killing Naman and his household.

In The Peacegiver, James Ferrel, points out that Abigail was a type of Christ, a foreshadowing.  In the same way that she came to David, gave him everything that he had been promised and should have received and asked him to forgive her, our Savior Jesus Christ comes to us.  Through the Atonement, He gives us everything that we should have received, or restores that which was lost by the one who sinned against us.  Then because He has taken the sins of the world upon Himself, He asks us to forgive Him.

Notice, that Naman appears not to have repented, but David was given what he had been promised and asked to forgive Abigail.  When we compare this to ourselves, we see that it is not necessary to wait for the people who have offended us to ask our forgiveness.  The Lord took those sins upon Him, and now asks us to forgive Him.  Forgiveness or punishment of Naman and in turn our offenders is between them and the Lord.

It is a beautiful story, isn’t it. So why do I get so upset when people talk to me about forgiveness?  Am I a hypocrite?  I will try to answer the first question, and leave the second in your capable hands.

First, telling me to forgive assumes that I am angry with my abuser.  It may surprise you to learn that I am not.  Not yet anyway.  Oh maybe a little, but not in the way I should be.  Anger is a very difficult emotion for me to allow myself to feel and express. Anger, my own and other people’s scares me.

Besides, even after months of people telling me, and of me, telling myself, “It’s not your fault”…deep inside, I still feel that it was.  My inner child is utterly convinced that there must have been something inherently wrong with me in order to have been treated that way by someone who should have loved me.  So, no I am not angry with him.  I am angry with myself.  So should I forgive myself then?  But you said it was not my fault!  If I forgive myself that means it was my fault and if that is true I am inherently flawed and unforgivable so it doesn’t matter anyway. I know that is illogical, but the subconscious is not always logical.

I imagine that it is hard for you to comprehend that I am not angry with my abuser, but it’s true.  For example, just yesterday I was overcome with some long repressed emotion.  I wept because he didn’t love me.  How I wanted him too!  How I tried to please him!  And yet it was never enough.  I still feel the sting of that rejection.

The next issue I have with forgiving, at least for now, is that if you tell me to forgive now, before I have even had a chance to feel angry, that negates my right to be angry.  Should I not be angry about what happened to me?  Would you have me believe that I have no right to be angry about my stolen innocence?  No right to be angry about the emotional, physical and spiritual repercussions I suffer because of the abuse?  I am just beginning to allow myself to feel anger.  Sometimes it flares up like a back-draft so suddenly and so intensely that it frightens me.  I believe, however, feeling that anger is part of the healing process.  Should I forgive now and miss this portion of the healing?  Surely not.  I need to feel this anger so that there will be something to forgive.

An overemphasis on forgiveness, implies to me more concern for my abuser than for myself.  Yes, I know, forgiveness is for me…to relieve me of the heavy burden.  Still just as blaming myself for the abuse is illogical (but none the less deeply ingrained in me,) so is the idea that “forgive your abuser” means you are more concerned about his welfare than my own.

Finally, when people talk about forgiveness, it feels to me that they think they are offering me a life-preserver, a magic bullet…a quick fix.  Here, Leslie, just take this forgiveness pill like a good girl and then we can all be happy again.  I wish it were that simple.  And because I feel anger (that confusing emotion) whenever someone mentions forgiveness, it reinforces a part of me that feels I am fundamentally flawed.  “See, these nice church people want to help, and you just get mad at them…it is because you are bad.”

There is a movie I love to watch called “The Testaments”.  It is about the Savior’s life and so during parts of the movie you see Him going about healing people.  I often weep when I watch that.  I wish that He would come and heal me that way…in an instant.  Though I know He could do that for me, I also know He won’t.  He still has the power to make the lame walk or to cure leprosy…or cancer…but more often He allows us to struggle through it…supporting us along the way…for reasons that surely must be clearer in Heaven than they are to us right now. And so…just as a person with cancer often passes through a dark and difficult time before healing comes (if it comes), I, too, must travel through a dark and difficult time on my journey to healing.

I do believe in forgiveness, and when I am ready I will forgive my abuser, and I will forgive God, and perhaps I will even forgive myself.  But it’s going to take some time, and in the meantime….

Don’t rush me.

Photo Attribution: Jiri Hodan

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18 thoughts on “Forgiveness is NOT a Magic Bullet

  1. I think you have an incredible gift and message to give to the world. I also think you are absolutely correct in all that you say.Emotions and the sub- or un-conscious are not rational. They simply exist and cannot be explained. I pray that at some time you will be able to understand all and forgive all, including yourself. But forgiveness alone is not a cure-all. Yes, we need to forgive as the Savior did, but I know that in this case, He would be having trouble, too. We know that He has gone through everything we have, but nowhere do the scriptures tell us He did it easily. He struggled–how could He not? He even cried out, "Daddy" to His Father to help Him.Although it feels like it, we never go through any of this alone. Even when we think He has forsaken us, He is there holding us in His loving arms. But He knows that we also can only grow with adversity. It is just terribly unfair that someone as full of light and truth as you has to endure much more than most.It will get better. Someday, forgiveness for that poor little girl who doesn't need it, will be in your ability and desire. I so long to hold her in my arms and tell her, and have her believe me, that none of this was her fault. I want to do that for you, too. Someday it will all happen. Until then, you are not alone. Christ is there, but so am I. And so are a lot more that you don't yet know. Keep writing and we will keep praying and basking in the glow of your strong light. And, we hope, that we can be worthy of reflecting that light back to you until you can do all you want and need to do.

  2. Leslie – I love your heart. I admire how you can allow yourself to "bleed" for all to see. To allow such vulnerability – is a strength I doubt I will ever have. Allow your wounds to heal in their own time… and know how very loved you are by SO many people.

  3. You have every right to be angry. You have every right to go through this process in the time and in the way in which "you" need. There IS righteous anger.Depression is anger turned inward. Sometimes we don't realize we are really angry, we instead turn it inward upon ourselves. It's ok to be angry outright -you are entitled. I'm angry for you.

  4. Great post! I would never rush you. Forgiveness can't be forced or rushed. I, myself, have a GOAL of forgiving my parents, but I have not reached that goal yet. When I do forgive, it will be for myself, not for them. The reason I think forgiveness is important is because I think the hatred that does eventually come around only eats up the survivor–it's like inflicting more punishment. Have you heard that saying, "it's like taking poison, and expecting your ABUSER to die?" That's why I, eventually, will complete my forgiveness healing. Thanks for your honesty in sharing this.

  5. Wow I wish I had magic words to make you feel better. You have every right to be angry but you have not allowed yourself to be thus far, so maybe forgive yourself for not allowing yourself to be angry and then work through your anger…does any of that make sense? I honestly cannot say I know what you are going through because I have not been through that and I hurt for you knowing you have. NO ONE deserves to go through abuse of any kind. But I will continue to pray for you that you find the answers you so desperately seek and are able to come to some sort of resolution. Big hugs to you my friend! You are an amazing person, friend, wife and Mother. Your beautiful children are direct reflection of your true beauty and kind heart. Jenna

  6. I am crying reading this, because I understand so well what you are saying. I have such a conflicting relationship with the uncle who abused me (he has been dead for a long time, but the relationship, especially as it relates to my mind and my life and my healing is still there and conflicted) at the same time I have no trouble finding the anger at other abusers in my life.On forgiveness. The Bible also says to be angry and not sin. I think that so validates the necessity of allowing yourself to work through your feelings and emotions. To allow yourself to be angry (which can feel very scary!) at an act that deserves anger is okay. It is right. It is maybe even healthy. At some point in the healing process I think it becomes appropriate to learn how to release that anger…this is where forgiveness comes in. Forgiveness is such a process. Thank you for putting words to feelings that so many of us have-the conflict between believing in forgiveness but not wanting to squander it when we aren't in full understanding of what all that forgiveness implies. Thanks also for submitting this to the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse.

  7. This is an excellent post. I think all of us struggle with the concept of forgiveness, especially if it is presented in a religious context. We feel we must forgive any trespass, but as you say very profoundly "if you tell me to forgive now, before I have even had a chance to feel angry, that negates my right to be angry." What an incredibly powerful statement. I wish you all the best as you keep healing, spiritually and otherwise – I'm still too mad at God for part of that conversation.Adventures in Anxiety Land

  8. I have been exactly where you seem to be. I have cried my way through so many meetings, skipped out of so many meetings. Sometimes the message, while I believed fully in its truth, was just too painful for me to hear in that moment.Luckily, I have had very supportive bishops as I've been healing. They understood when I walked out of sacrament meeting.I hope the people that you go to church with are understanding. At least some of them. It can be so much harder if they aren't.Thinking of you today.

    1. Oh my goodness! a tmerendous article dude. Thank you Nonetheless I’m experiencing concern with ur rss . Don?t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting similar rss downside? Anybody who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

    2. Ooo i didn’t know you was moving to LA, such a big move! I’m jouleas!Such lovely photos, you and your friends are all so beautiful!OH, and your heels are beyond amazing, love it!Krissy xoxowww.swallowmyfashion.blospot.com

  9. Thanks for sharing this post. I have been where you are crying in church. I have written a number of posts of my own on the subject of forgiveness on my blog. For many years, the subject of forgiveness was a way to continue to beat myself over the head for not being good enough, for being flawed in some way. I didn't understand why forgiveness seemed so easy for others but not for me. I didn't think I would ever be able to forgive my dad for the incest of my childhood. Thank God that I was finally able to do forgiveness before my dad died in 2001. It was a lengthy process for me and yes, I had to get angry first and work my way through all of those angry and hurt feelings first. When it came to forgiveness of myself and my inner child, my 12-Step sponsor said that I came first in needing forgiveness. What did I forgive my inner child for? For believing the lies of my abuser. For believing that the incest was my fault when it never was. For believing that she was somehow flawed when she never was. For believing the lies that said forgiveness was easy when it never was. I had to forgive the adult me for not taking care of me during all those years of denial when all I wanted was to forget that the incest ever happened. I needed to forgive the adult me for not going to the dentist or the doctor when I needed to. I needed to forgive the adult me for holding in and denying that I was angry when I was so full of rage that I was like a volcano waiting to explode all over anyone that got too close.Forgiveness started with me and is just for my benefit. It didn't make any difference to my dad or my mother or any of my other abusers. It lessened my headaches and stomach aches for awhile. They have come back since I am back actively working on my incest issues with the writing on my blog in the past three years. As I heal more, they will get better. Forgiveness is not a one time thing and then you are finished and never have to do it again. It would be much easier if it was. Forgiveness also doesn't mean that you forget the abuse and never get angry about it again. I did and you will. Like healing, forgiveness is an ongoing process.

  10. Well said, Leslie. Preachers are not psychologists and there is much they do not understand about healing. Less often quoted is Jesus' admonishment to try for a reconciliation and then shun the person if they do not respond (think it's in Luke). It's interesting that so much emphasis in church is on forgiveness and less on making the apology (think about it).As a therapist, I think forgiveness is the absolute last stage of healing from trauma and abuse. Forgiving without healing fully is like signing a contract without reading it. Don't worry, you will get there!

  11. Thank you everyone for your comments. I can't tell you how much they have meant to me. I wanted to respond to each one, but haven't had the emotional energy.Each comment brightened my day though! Thanks to each of you for reading and commenting!!!

  12. Leslie, you might be interested in the post that I just wrote on my blog Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker. It is on forgiveness and suits your discussion here pretty good. Here is the link: http://patriciasingleton.blogspot.com/2010/10/forgiveness-is-not-forgetting-child.html .I am never sure how other people feel about me leaving links to my posts on their blogs if I have just met them online. If you want you can delete the whole comment.

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