I seem to be slow to learn many of the important things in life. Or maybe, it is just that I am willing to admit my puzzlement! I am finally beginning to realise why Jesus makes such a big deal about forgiveness in the gospels. If we understand forgiveness to be an act of will, or mental choice to view a particular act differently, we won’t get it.
Forgiveness requires that I am able to see the humanity of the other. It requires that I am able to recognise that this person who has done me harm (intentionally or not!) is a wounded person: A person operating out of patterns of behaviour which are deeply etched on their psyche. Not one of us manages to escape childhood without at least a few scars. We carry unconscious desires and needs with us and shape our experience far more than we realise. Occasionally we are confronted with someone else’s stuff and those are the moments which lead to pain.
All too often we attribute the pain we have experienced to the other person, as though they intended the full extent of the pain of our experience. This is rarely the case. Most of us are far too unaware of what is happening in the experience of anyone else to be able to intentionally cause such destruction. Mostly, when we do lash out at another, it because they have failed us in some way – although often we do not even quite understand exactly why it is that we feel that we have been failed.
So, when we are the ones who are wounded, it is only when we recognise the wounded vulnerability of the other that we can begin to forgive. It is only when we can see that their actions were bound by a story far greater than the simply the interaction we have had do we begin to feel a sense of relief.
It is only when we are able to see the humanity of the other that we can begin to truly love. It is only in seeing the other as a mixed bag of giftedness and brokenness that we begin to experience compassion.
If the message of the gospel is about loving God and loving one’s neighbour, then the capacity to forgive is useful measure. Forgiveness is not an act of will. Forgiveness is the capacity to see the other as a human being.
It does not require that I try to ignore my own woundedness and continue to embrace the other despite the obvious destructiveness of our interaction. Sometimes the best we can do is to walk away.