[Here’s a draft of the second of three parts on forgiving… All one chapter in the forthcoming memoir I’m planning to publish soonish…]
Forgiving small things is easy, like when the neighbor didn’t pick up after their dog and I stepped in it, or like that time the barber used the wrong number clipper on me and made me look like a Marine. I can release flyspeck hurts with one swing of the forgiveness swatter. It’s the elephant-size offenses – the big-ticket items – that often require a more insistent and incremental approach. It takes more time to cut through the multi-stranded cord of massive offenses than the ones tied with thread. Unless, of course, the thread is wound repeatedly, say, seventy times seven. At least that’s the way it is for me. I’m fantasizing vindictive visions way before triple digit infractions.
In relation to my ex-wife I knew I needed to begin the forgiving sooner than later before I got addicted to the energy of hatred. It was awkward at first. I began with a sheepish prayer something like this:
“Lord, I’m going to say something that you and I both know is not entirely true yet. But since it’s my desire for it to be true, I’m going to say it by faith ahead of time. I figure that eventually, you’ll work it into my heart and someday I’ll actually mean it. But right now I’m just sort of trying in on for size.”
Though it sounds a little new-agey, I think the old recovery dictum, “Fake it till you make it,” has merit. Sometimes you have to sort of ease into it and talk yourself into forgiving. I may not be able to do total forgiveness today, but I can manage to begin with being forgive-ish.
I can’t do this on my own steam and that’s why I’m glad the world’s best Forgiver lives in me and promises to live his life through me. For my part, it helps me to hear myself say, not only what I want to do, but with God’s strength, what I’m choosing to do.
I had to take several running starts at it before I had the audacity to make myself actually say the words, and even then only half meant them. I’d finish the preface to my prayer and then begin to say, “I forgive…” but the words wouldn’t come out, so I’d return to the starting line. “Okay, so… you know what I’m going through here, and that I want to be real about this, and not claim to be something I’m not, but I gotta start somewhere – right? So, even though I don’t totally mean it… I forg—”
Another round. It might’ve been by the third go at it that I was finally able to say, “I forgive her.”
And then, as if the aforementioned Preamble weren’t sufficient, I added an Appendix to it, stating after the fact the identical sentiment. “OK, so, you know that I didn’t totally mean that yet, right? It’s a fake-it-till-I-make-it kind of thing. Eventually it’ll be more than words, and it will take a place in my heart.” I guess I just don’t like to lie to God. It seems so silly to do so when he knows anyway. I can lie to myself a lot easier than to him, but I want my prayers to come from a place of reality in me, and not just be so much pretentious game-playing; thus the need for the major disclaimer.
If this sounds painstaking and time consuming it is! For me it can be a glacially slow, yet deliberate movement toward forgiveness. Jesus could do it from the cross at his first try, but I’m not all that much like him yet. Forgiving doesn’t come so naturally for me. I usually have to go several rounds with it before I can pin both of Resentment’s shoulders even for two seconds. Even then it keeps bouncing up off the mat and demanding another match.
Sure enough, though as I prayed this way it did incrementally begin to take shape in my heart. The Preface and Appendix eventually dropped off, and in time I began to actually forgive from my heart. At first, in the way I felt about my grievances, I noticed improvement the size of a gnat, which over time grew to the size of a housefly. I felt angry only some of the time. The worst of the ugly feelings were disappearing, and like an infected splinter, hostility was working itself loose and beginning to pop up to the surface.
Early on, almost every day I had dozens of occasions in which I felt the sharp pangs of bile, which required an out loud declaration – “God, I forgive them.” As time has elapsed, I find myself having to repeat the process less and less often. The flashbacks of betrayal and return of resentful feelings continue to gradually subside, and these days I’m down to maybe an average of once or twice a day. My hope is that one day I’ll notice that I haven’t felt even one twinge of resentment in – “I can’t remember when!”
In the meantime, when people ask me if I’ve forgiven, I say, “I am forgiving…”