Forgiveness normsBy Robert Yutzy
In my last column I said forgiveness isn’t seasonal. It should be embodied as a permanent part of us. Forgiveness isn’t like a prescription, kept on the shelf in a closet, available in case we need to take a dose.
Peter seemed to share that idea; he suggested to Jesus that seven doses of forgiveness should be adequate. Jesus said to be prepared to take 70 times that amount.
Forgiveness must become part of our Christian DNA, our new nature. It is to be embodied, not ingested for a temporary effect.
In my last column, I quoted a letter where the writer expressed the need to “develop forgiveness norms in the congregation.” That is true, yet forgiveness norms are not something we turn on like a light switch or do because a Christian ought. They have to be modeled, developed and nurtured.
Several characteristics can help explain why forgiveness isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. This is where my colleague’s metaphor of “taking a walk around the lake” is invaluable and helps us realize that forgiveness takes time.
Often, before we can even get to the point of forgiveness, we need to be heard and validated for our experience. We need someone to recognize that an injustice has occurred.
A huge part of nurturing forgiveness norms is taking that “walk around the lake” to give the time to hear from each other and to understand each other’s perspective. It is hard to get to forgiveness when we are caught in our hurt, pain and anger.
We also need to be willing to listen and to “see” what other people are experiencing. Seeing the lake from different viewpoints is critical to the healing process. When we feel heard and understood, and recognize that others have been hurt too, it opens the door for healing. It creates awareness that the health of our community depends on the health of our relationships.
Forgiveness is not easy. It is not generally a once-and-done decision. We live with the losses that have been caused by the words or actions of others. These reminders do not just disappear.
Forgiveness is not about forgetting. To forgive and forget merely absolves the guilt of the person who has committed the injustice. It doesn’t help put things right.
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