Forgiving does not mean forgetting

Henri Nouwen –

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When we forgive a person, the memory of the wound might stay with us for a long time, even throughout our lives. Sometimes we carry the memory in our bodies as a visible sign. But forgiveness changes the way we remember. It converts the curse into a blessing. When we forgive our parents for their divorce, our children for their lack of attention, our friends for their unfaithfulness in crisis, our doctors for their ill advice, we no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over.

Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts. Forgiveness indeed heals memories.

Forgiveness often seems impossible

More Nouwen:
We are all wounded people. Who wounds us? Often those whom we love and those who love us. When we feel rejected, abandoned, abused, manipulated, or violated, it is mostly by people very close to us: our parents, our friends, our spouses, our lovers, our children, our neighbors, our teachers, our pastors. Those who love us wound us too. That’s the tragedy of our lives. This is what makes forgiveness from the heart so difficult. It is precisely our hearts that are wounded. We cry out, “You, who I expected to be there for me, you have abandoned me. How can I ever forgive you for that?”

Forgiveness often seems impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. The God who lives within us will give us the grace to go beyond our wounded selves and say, “In the Name of God you are forgiven.” Let’s pray for that grace.

Why is receiving forgiveness so difficult?

Henri Nouwen –
There are two sides to forgiveness: giving and receiving. Although at first sight giving seems to be harder, it often appears that we are not able to offer forgiveness to others because we have not been able fully to receive it. Only as people who have accepted forgiveness can we find the inner freedom to give it. Why is receiving forgiveness so difficult? It is very hard to say, “Without your forgiveness I am still bound to what happened between us. Only you can set me free.” That requires not only a confession that we have hurt somebody but also the humility to acknowledge our dependency on others. Only when we can receive forgiveness can we give it.

“Surely, this is the man who did such damage in Jerusalem…”

Today the Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic Churches celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. The same St. Paul, then called Saul, of whom it was said “Surely, this is the man who did such damage in Jerusalem…” The story of Saul’s conversion, found in Acts 9, is a remarkable story, a model of redemption. It gives me hope. It has shown me a path, a simple – and now familiar – path to recovery.

Simple, that is, once I got knocked off my high horse!

I, like Saul, once walked around with a grand sense of my own importance – big job, beautiful house, beautiful family, travel, clothes, cars…people who loved and admired me. I really was a somebody. There was one big problem, one major disconnection: I stopped working on my relationship with God. I stopped working at it and assumed that we were ok. We must have been ok…right? God had clearly shown me favor – I wanted for nothing.

In a similar way, I’d come to take my work for granted. And most egregiously, I’d taken relationships with close family and friends for granted.

I was living on hi-test ego. And like Saul, I defied subtlety. I heard the messages alright; I heard that voice and didn’t change, wouldn’t change. I was too proud and too full of my self. And that voice was so easy to disregard.

So God knocked me hard, hard enough to thoroughly disorient me, hard enough to knock me to the ground, hard enough to remove all the trappings of my self-importance, my self regard. I lost my sight. I couldn’t see where to go, didn’t know what to do.

Thankfully, I was given a simple message much like the message that Saul heard, “…you will be told what to do.” I found people who held me up and led me to a safe place where I could begin to recover my sight and learn to walk again – but now, as a humble student and servant. I, like Saul, took up residence at a place called Straight Street.

(The street exists today,36.302731,16.63z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x1518e72a5e2d2ab9:0x16c3884e526c1b82!8m2!3d33.5086737!4d36.3051255 as Midhat Pasha Souq at its western end while the eastern end is called Bab Sharqi Street.)

Early on I came to know three things, as Saul (now Paul) had to learn:

  • Hi-test ego can no longer fuel my life; I am powerless and rely on a force greater – much greater than myself. I work to give myself, my will, up to that force every day;
  • Just as Paul needed others to lead him by the hand to a safe place in Damascus, I need and get strength and wisdom from a community of men and women;
  • And just as Saul had Ananias, a man who gave freely of himself in providing direction, I need a guide, a person of wisdom and experience who can and will give me direction.

Today I joyfully celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle.