Guest Author - Rev. Jaclin Meade Scott
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. It surprises people to learn this.
Forgive is derived from an ancient Hebrew word meaning “send away”. 1. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon. 2. To renounce anger or resentment against. 3. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example)
Reconcile: 1. To re-establish a close relationship between. 2. To settle or resolve. 3. To bring (oneself) to accept 4. To make compatible or consistent:
Reconciliation is not possible without forgiveness.
There CAN be forgiveness without reconciliation.
Every once in a while we hear of a parent who stands up in court to face their child’s murderer. The parent forgives the murderer, and our thoughts reel. How can a parent do that? How can they just pretend none of this happened, and go on with their lives?
The problem there is our perception, and most people get it confused. Forgiveness isn't some magical feeling that nakes all the icky stuff go away. When the parent forgives, it means they will work to let go of the anger and resentment, the need for revenge. Of course they will always remember what happened. But carrying the anger only hurts the parent, and gives the murderer power over the parent. That's not good.
Does forgiving the murderer mean they’ll send birthday cards and wish him well? Visit? Absolutely not. There will be no reconciliation between them. But the parent has taken the first step in reclaiming his or her life.
Amazingly, the parent may find it easier to forgive the murderer than his or her self.
“I should have - - - -“
“Why didn’t I - - - - -“
“If only - - - - -“
“I’m responsible - - - - - - -“
Many of us carry the burden of not forgiving ourselves for something. It may not be as drastic as murder, but it is just as damaging.
A natural part of child development is for the child to assume ‘contracts’ with authority figures. These are unknown to the adult. But when the adult fails to meet contract guidelines, the child wants something to be done about it!
As we mature, we hopefully outgrow this. If we don’t, it affects all of our adult relationships. We expect things of people or friends or spouses, only they don’t know it. It hasn’t been discussed in an open, mature manner. And when expectations aren’t met – wham! If you forgive the other person, and start talking about how BOTH parties see things, you can reconcile. Rebuild. Grow. Love.
But what if there isn’t another person? What if you hold yourself responsible? Do you talk to yourself?
First, let’s do some foundation work. Do you believe God (Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, Higher Power, et al) can forgive humanity? If yours is not a forgiving God et al, you can stop reading here, and go have a nice day. This article is not addressing your issues.
If you believe God et al forgives humanity, just maybe not you, proceed.
Next, let’s look at the event for which you hold yourself responsible. You may have heard that “Hind sight is 20/20”. That means when you look back at something later, your rational mind comes up with logical, more effective ways to have handled it. You see things more clearly after time has passed.
Look at the event. Yes, it’s difficult. Sorry. But you really must. Look hard at it. Remember it, leaving nothing out. Breathe. It was a traumatic event. Everything happened so fast, though it seemed in slow motion. Take a minute to stare at a blank spot on the wall while it all comes back.
Breathe. Now we’ll look at the incident in a more rational manner. First of all, it was a traumatic event. Logic shuts down during trauma. You go instantly into survival mode. Fight or flight. This is built into your brain, you have no control over it. And how dare the world keep spinning! How dare others go on as though nothing has happened!
The effects of trauma have no statute of limitations. You may act in a traumatized manner for quite some time. You may do things, or not, that have haunted you ever since. Why didn’t you do something differently? YOU WERE TRAUMATIZED. YOU COULDN’T.
Next, let’s look at those invisible contracts. Parents aren’t supposed to let their children die or go away or get hurt. Spouses are supposed to be ‘the first to go’. If I had been a better child, my parent wouldn’t have gotten so sick. Were any of these things openly discussed? Probably not. It would have been irrational. Hello-o? IT STILL ISN’T RATIONAL.
Thinking that God, et al, can forgive anyone but you is putting limitations on God. It is spitting in God’s face, and not a good thing to do. If you feel you can’t be forgiven, it is you turning your back on God, not the other way around. You are putting yourself above God, becoming your own god. This is definitely something you must see someone about. Now.
Is God punishing you for the event? Sacred texts all have stories about people who thought this way. The Book of Job is a discussion of how stuff happens. Bodies don’t function as they were designed to. Kids grow up and make decisions, as they should. World events happen. Your fault? Hardly.
You have to send these feelings away. Accept that you did the best you could under the circumstances. Try now to make amends, to reconcile. But remember what was said earlier. There can be no reconciliation without forgiveness. Let yourself off the hook.
If reconciliation doesn’t happen, accept the other person’s decision. Accept that people die. Accept that you are not a god.
One last, yet vitally important thing about forgiving – especially yourself. It CANNOT be done alone, or it just feeds the egocentrism. It must be done IN COMMUNITY, like family or congregation or support group.
Wholeness in body, mind, spirit, society and the world is