The last five months have been intense. There have been external pressures, but much more importantly, there have been massive internal machinations. The process began with the reconciliation of a relationship that I had long since abandoned.
The letting go of that hurt, something which has defined me in some ways, meant that I could begin to tackle some of the deeper elements of unforgiveness. Over the intervening months, one after another, I have been able to acknowledge the pain, and then to let it go.
The end result has been the emergence into far greater freedom. And with it, a sense of being able to relax.
When end this particular journey began at the beginning of Lent, I had no idea what it was going to be. In fact, I had no idea that it was going to be a journey at all. I thought it was end of a very long process of forgiveness with that particular person. I wasn’t aware that that lack of forgiveness was blocking my dealing with a couple of other things.
I have no idea quite how I ended up here. I know is that the Holy Spirit has clearly been working. And I have had a few wonderful companions. It has been a period of tremendous grace and I am deeply grateful.
I spent the Easter weekend visiting three of the major battle grounds in KwaZulu Natal. Blood River where the Boers triumphed over the Zulu; Isandlwana where the Zulu triumphed over the British and Rorke’s Drift where the British fought off the Zulu.
Hearing the stories told from different angles has made me acutely aware of the complexity of the history of South Africa. The ways in which each people remember these days is so different. And in each case the victors claim that the victory was evidence of the God’s favouring of their endeavour (or the ancestors support).
Each history is deeply scored on the memory of those whose ancestors lost blood on those battle grounds. The ‘truth’ lies somewhere in between it all. But the question remains – how do we make a single nation out of these (and a good few more) peoples?
It seems to me that the telling of these stories is an important part of the identity of each group. We need to allow for the retelling of the stories as they are. We need to honour the significance of these stories to each people. We also need to hear the stories of those who lost those battles. And then we need to find a way to celebrate together. We need to find a common goal.
This project of reconciliation is no different from two hurt people trying to overcome difference. It is just at a slightly more complex level. The story of the hurt that we tell is real for each person. The extent of the hurt of the victim is usually greater than the intent of perpetrator. But frequently the victim needs to tell their story as they perceived it, and to have the story heard.
Forgiveness begins with an acceptance that the story of the perpetrator and the story of the victim are necessarily different. And reconciliation is only possible once the grace of forgiveness has taken hold. It isn’t simple.
There are two distinct challenges of our time. Firstly, to find ways in which anger can be expressed without resorting to violence and destruction. Secondly, to learn to listen to the story of another’s pain without defensiveness.
There is a situation in my life that I never dared hope to reconcile. In this particular case I was the one who was wronged. To be perfectly honest I never really desired reconciliation. Over the years I have come to desire and seek the grace of forgiveness. And that desire has grown, and has come to fruition.
I wrote about the discovery that that grace had indeed taken root in October last year (you can find the post here).
Quite unexpectedly, through a brief email contact I have found not just forgiveness but reconciliation. With the reconciliation, the grace of forgiveness has paled into insignificance. It is a completely different space. One that I had no idea existed.
A few years ago I came across an image of grief in Jerusha Hull McCormack’s powerful book ‘Grieving: A beginner’s guide’. In it she describes grief as a rubber ball squeezed tightly into a glass jar – the glass jar is your being. In the beginning the ball fills the jar. The usual way in which people talk about ‘getting over grief’ seems to suggest that the ball should shrink over time. McCormack suggests that in fact this is not the case. The ball remains the same size – but the jar increases in size to accommodate it, and to allow new elements of life to have a place.
The image is powerful one – in my own mind over time I have morphed the image slightly – where the ball has become a stone, and it represents not only grief, but any significant experience of suffering. So for me, this particular incident was a large stone in the jar of my soul.
A few days ago I realised that with the reconciliation, the stone has disintegrated. The space it once occupied is now available.
Available for what? I am not sure, but this is clearly a part of the interior shifts taking place in the wake of the final release of an incident that held me captive for far too long. It is utterly extraordinary and pure grace.