“There is arrogance in forgiveness.”
My yoga teacher, Ann Maxwell, had this insight for my message on forgiveness, “but you’re not going to be able to use it in your sermon!” she cautioned. …Challenge accepted.
Because she was right. There is arrogance in forgiveness. When we assume that our expectations and our way were the only acceptable outcome, we project blame onto the other person who hurt us or messed things up, and then find it somewhere deep within us to ‘forgive them.’
But the truth is, forgiveness has almost nothing to do with the other person. We’ve all heard the quote about resentment being like drinking poison expecting the other person to get sick – you are the one who is poisoned. But this is hard to hear. And forgiveness can feel unbearable sometimes.
In the Bible, Jesus seems to ask the impossible. “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Jesus is telling us to forgive with reckless abandon. Not seven times, but seventy seven times, or seventy times seven. (We can debate the Greek later.) And I don’t think this was meant to become a punch card; once you’ve forgiven 490 times, then you can start holding unforgiveness as a weapon.
Because that’s what unforgiveness is. It’s a weapon, it’s a poison, it’s a hot coal. It’s a tool to cause pain. It’s a sharp blade that we clutch in our attempt to hurt others. But the craziest part is that whenever we seek to use that weapon against others, we are the ones who end up getting hurt.
And I suspect Jesus knew this. Probably experienced this. He could have gone around angry and resentful at the religious leaders who rejected him, bitter and silently fuming at everyone who tried to hurt him, but instead, he chose forgiveness, over and over and over because his peace and his message were too important to be hindered and impinged by unforgiveness.
And despite how simple Jesus makes it seem, you and I both know that forgiveness is not easy. It takes incredible strength! And sometimes it’s painful – it can feel more painful that the wound we originally suffered, but there is no peace without forgiveness.
It’s a long journey, but not an impossible one. It starts outside, moves within, and then once we can deal with it on the inside, the fruits manifest outside of ourselves. Here’s how it looks:
We start by thinking of what happened. We fixate on the action, the pain, the moment. We are stuck ruminating on the past. It often sounds like this: They hurt me. They were wrong. I never should have…
And allow me to pause, because I want to be clear about something: forgiveness does not mean that what they did was ok. Forgiveness does not mean that what happened wasn’t painful. Forgiveness does not mean that your vulnerability and your whole-hearted openness were a mistake. Forgiveness does not mean letting that person use you and hurt you again.
But here’s where the arrogance comes into play because forgiveness does have a bit of arrogance in it! Our pain of unforgiveness hurts us because we think it should have happened our way. That our expectations should have been met, but they weren’t.
And then we blame the other person. Our anger comes from holding on to our judgments and resentments, from thinking that we knew best. Upset that our desired way wasn’t what happened. And when we hold firmly with unwavering devotion to our anger about how things should have gone, but didn’t, we keep adding insult to injury. We are not punished for our anger, but by it.
When we can realize this, the problem goes from being something completely outside of ourselves to something internal that we can work with. That lofty huge thing of forgiveness suddenly is bite-sized, something we can actually manage.
And when that forgiveness comes from within us, for us, it completely changes the name of the game. It sounds so absurd, but suddenly now forgiveness has almost nothing to do with the other person! You can forgive others not because they deserve it, but because you deserve peace. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.
In this way, forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been anything different. Forgiveness is allowing the truth to be true, and choosing your peace as the new truth. Forgiveness cannot change the past, but it can change the future. It can change your future.
Do you see how simple this is? This practice of forgiveness? It’s not easy, but it’s simple. We start by naming the problem out there, projecting the blame and responsibility on another. Then we realize our grip on the past, and admit that we are the ones who are clinging so tightly, and that we are the ones causing that pain in our lives.
So we let go, we choose the future, we choose freedom, we choose our peace over our pain. And then, if we’re skillful, we can bring that ease and acceptance and fresh open hearted presence back into the world.
And I can only imagine that this is the kind of world Jesus was calling us into. A world of absolutely reckless forgiveness, knowing that our hearts will be the ones healed. Calling us again and again to let go and choose a peaceful path.
So go ahead and be selfish – forgive like crazy. Let go of your grip on the past and instead extend your open hands and open heart to the world.