Editor’s note: The following article refers to spiritual concepts. Please read Lovefraud’s statement on Spiritual Recovery.
By Ox Drover
For my whole life I felt that I could never measure up because I was expected to “pretend it never happened” in order to meet my mother’s definition of the word “forgive.” I was expected to trust the person who had hurt me in the past, and who I knew would hurt me again in the future. I was told by religious leaders, whom I trusted, that if I did not “pretend it didn’t happen” and “truly forgive,” I was bound for an eternal residence in hellfire and brimstone.
Many of us who are Christians know the various Bible passages that say, in essence, we must “forgive those who trespass against us” if we expect God to forgive us of our own wrongdoing. Jesus, as our ultimate example, from the cross said, “Father forgive them…”
How can we mortal human beings possibly expect to be able to truly forgive those people who have so deliberately ripped our lives apart?
After the “Summer of Chaos,” as I have come to call my last run in with the psychopaths, I was so devastated, so angry, so bitter, so filled with wrath that I could only focus on the many details of the many crimes and arrows that had been slung at me so very unfairly by so many members of my family. I was filled from top to bottom with bitterness and anger.
I am fortunate that I have several well-educated ministers in my acquaintance that I could call upon for advice, as well as reading the Bible for myself. After talking to these men at great length, I finally came to the question, does “forgiveness” really mean “pretending it didn’t happen, and restoring trust to these people?”
Does “love your enemies” really mean that I have to have a “gushy” feeling for these people who have harmed me so easily and with so much glee?
After much reading of the scriptures and talking with the various ministers (of several denominations) I came to a new definition of the word “forgiveness” that I think is more rational and makes more sense than my mother’s definition of “let’s just pretend none of this ever happened.” (She actually said this aloud.)
The new definitions of love and forgiveness are these.
Forgiveness does not mean “pretend it never happened.” Forgiveness means to get the bitterness and wrath out of your heart toward those that have wronged you. For example, when Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, I am sure that he was very justifiably angry with these brothers for doing this to him. They demoted him from the status of “favored son” to the status of an animal that was bought and sold.
The Bible tells us, though, that Joseph got the bitterness out of his heart toward his brothers during the many years he was in Egypt. But when his brothers miraculously appeared before him, not, of course, recognizing that their brother was now second only to the Pharaoh, Joseph did not immediately identify himself to his brothers, “Hey, guys, it’s me, the brother you sold off as a slave!”
But Joseph did test his brothers to see what kind of men they had become in those same years. Were they the same uncaring, jealous men that they had been when they had cast him into the pit, and grieved their aged father with a tale about him being torn apart by some wild animal, taking his blood-stained cloak back to his father as proof of his death, not caring that they were bringing grief upon their father’s head with the tale of his death? Or had they learned anything? Had they changed?
Joseph had forgiven his brothers, but he still didn’t trust them until after they had passed his tests to see what kind of men they were.
Putting all this together then gave me a new definition of “forgiveness,” and it was simply the removing of the smoldering anger, the thirst for revenge, the gnawing hate for them. I was not required by God or good sense to trust these same people, or to “pretend they had not done what they did.” Forgiveness was an act, not a feeling.
Looking at “love your enemies” in the same way, I saw that “love” meant to do good to those that persecute you rather than take advantage to hurt them if you can. The story of the future King David fleeing from the jealous and murderous King Saul illustrates that David “loved” King Saul even though Saul was seeking to find and kill David. Twice David had a chance to kill Saul when Saul didn’t even know he was there, and both times, David did not kill Saul, but let him move on his way. Loving our enemies simply means that we must not try to seek revenge against them, even if we can, we must do what is right, even if we have a chance to do what is wrong, no matter how they have wronged us.
I came away from that summer of spiritual questioning with a new awareness of the concepts of the Bible’s teachings, which even if a person is not a believer in the Bible’s divine inspiration, still are psychologically sound.
Harboring, nurturing, and feeding anger, wrath, thoughts of revenge, may chemically light up the pleasure centers of our evolutionary brain, but in the long term, these strong and negative emotions prevent our healing. Short-term, anger is a very natural and normal part of the process we go through when we are injured. Long-term, like any other intense reactive emotion, anger/bitterness becomes a stressor in and of itself, keeping us from thinking rationally and reasonably, and focused only on the injury.
Sure, we were injured and we will never forget that injury (injuries) or the person who did them to us, but we will learn from that experience with the psychopath, learn how to prevent another “P-experience” and live a better life because of our knowledge. But trust them, ever again? Not on your life! Getting the bitterness out of our hearts, focusing on ourselves and our own healing, instead of on the hateful bitter vengeful feelings toward them, turns us in a positive direction, so that we can come to peace with the past,
What do I get out of “forgiving” those that have hurt me so much when they get off “scot-free?”
Well, first of all, I don’t get upset every time I think about them, or look at something that reminds me of them.
Secondly, I am not mad all the time. I can focus on other things besides the hurts that have been inflicted on me. In order to keep my anger up, I would have to focus a great deal of energy on thinking about the past injuries, pulling the scabs off the wounds so that they would continue to bleed. So I save a lot of energy in fueling this old anger that I can now focus on other more positive things.
Thirdly, my spirituality and my spiritual health are not impeded by this mass of anger and negative feelings. My stress level can now drop because these old injuries start to heal and the pain is lessened because of the healing. I am now more in tune with myself and my own needs, since I am no longer focusing all my energy on the injuries.
Fourthly, now that I am no longer angry all the time, I am not so prone to see insult and injury where none is intended. I have more patience with those I love and that love me. I have more patience with myself, and don’t turn this negative energy toward myself at times. I can set reasonable boundaries instead of letting things seethe and then blowing up about some minor problem that in the light of a non-angry mind isn’t worth worrying about. It lets me put things in a reasonable perspective.
Forgiving our enemies isn’t about them, it is all about US. Forgiving them allows us to heal from the wounds they inflicted. Hating and not forgiving them just allows them to go on re-injuring us forever.