What Forgiveness Is Not
It is easy to say, "I forgive you," but actually forgiving someone is much more difficult. Forgiveness demands that the offended lay down her right to revenge and to hold on to an offense. It requires a certain humility of spirit that lives in direct contradiction to our natural state. When faced with the challenge to forgive the offended is likely to offer an initial response of, "That's not fair!"
The woman who has escaped a violent relationship is often overwhelmed with pressure to forgive right now. Her abuser, church group, and family friends might all put tremendous pressure on her not only to forgive immediately but also to develop a case of amnesia and to renew complete trust in her abuser. She is expected to utter the words, "I forgive you," because he said, "I am sorry."
Patricia confessed that she could not help wondering, "Is he sorry or is he sorry he got caught?"
Is he sorry for the tremendous pain his verbal assaults caused his wife? Or is he sorry he might now be held accountable for his violent ways?
Is he sorry his infidelity caused her to face a life threatening illness or is he sorry his wife will no longer be available to cook his dinner, do his laundry, and pick up after him?
If her abuser truly is remorseful must she immediately trust him? Could she trust him? Would it be safe? Could she forgive moments after he muttered, "I am sorry?"
The Long Journey
Like most survivors of domestic abuse Patricia's journey to forgiveness has been long and painful. It began with the usual pressure to forgive and forget. If he said he is sorry then the slate is immediately wiped clean and he is free to renew his cycle of abuse. "For the offended," Pat says, "it is not so simple."
She needed time to sort through her fears, issues of trust, and time to heal. She needed to discover what forgiveness is and what it is not. It took time, determination, and healing from years of a Triple A relationship of abuse, adultery, and alcohol. The wounds were deep and she could not process the pain before he openly took up with another woman.
Before Patricia began forgiving layer upon layer of offenses she had to shut out the cacophony of voices demanding that she forgive NOW! and walk her own lonely path toward her bright future.
In her journey she discovered that:
1. Forgiveness is not giving tacit approval of the abuser's evil deeds. It is not saying, "Your abuse was no big deal. I survived."
2. Forgiveness is not excusing the abuser's bad behavior. "He grew up in a tough home. It is not his fault."
3. Forgiveness is not denying the years of torment. The bad happened. It must be acknowledged before it can be forgiven.
4. Forgiveness is not overlooking the wrong. It is not allowing the abuser to continue his treachery with no accountability.
5. Forgiveness is not forgetting. The offended will always remember her abuser's treachery; she simply chooses to not hold it against him any longer.
6. Forgiveness is not diminishing sin. What the abuser did was wrong. It caused his victim tremendous harm that will take a lifetime to heal. His misdeeds were not insignificant; they were not inconsequential.
The Journey Continues
Patricia has been on a long journey of forgiveness. Her journey began when she left the bondage of domestic violence; she thinks it will end when she completes the process of forgiving her abuser. The first part of the process, for Patricia, was discovering what forgiveness is not. She then began the process of discovering what forgiveness is. "I expect to complete the process any day now," she said before taking another sip of her favorite Malbec. I hope a second glass will coax What Forgiveness Is out of Patricia. I am eager to complete my own journey.