Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time.
I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note – torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one.
When I was a teenager, I didn’t drink coffee. Instead I slept in until the last possible moment, and then rushed into the day groggy and cantankerous. Mornings weren’t for taking time to pause and count one’s blessings.
One day, during my senior year, when I knew everything and waited not-too-patiently for everyone else to figure that out, I had words with my mother. All these years later, it isn’t possible to recall what caused tempers to flare. More than likely, it boiled down to me being a dick. But I’ll never forget the tension in my gut as I drove my beat up Silverado to school. I’d created a tear in the harmony of life and it needed mending. Like some sort of moral GPS navigation system, my mind kept urging me to “make the next legal U-turn.” I dropped my sisters off at school and, risking the wrath of the truancy squad, headed back home. As I pulled into the driveway, I saw my mom staring out the window bearing the universal look of concern most mothers wear upon their faces. I bounded out of the truck, mounted the steps two at a time, and met her at the noisy screen door with a hug.
The fabric of life had been stitched up. A patch of forgiveness applied.
Years later, during my self-righteous, black-and-white phase of life, I set my sights on a friend who needed some Godly exhortation. By my twisted way of thinking, she’d gone too far astray, done things that were treacherous and sinful, and could only be brought back into the fold with a steaming helping of tough love. Turn or burn. We didn’t speak for years, not because of the physical miles that separated us but because of the chasm I’d so carelessly carved. It took time, and much bawling, but we are comrades once again. My guilt and shame almost destroyed me, and only her loving hand of forgiveness saved me.
We are an imperfect people. Indeed, we live and learn, grow wiser and develop a willingness to forbear the shortcomings of those around us. And yet, despite our best efforts to live in peace and harmony, with others – and, perhaps more importantly, with ourselves – we often clumsily lash out and inflict pain. Sometimes the wound is subtle, hardly recognizable amid the other scars we bear. Other times, the cut is fresh and deep and stanching the flow of the stuff of life become priority one. In all cases, our hope for healing lies in the power of forgiveness.
One of the most solemn events at 2007’s Burning Man Festival in northern Nevada was the razing of the Temple of Forgiveness, an artistic impression created by artist and sculptor David Best. Built of leftover scraps of plywood, festival attendees were invited to grace the structure with handwritten notes or other artistic creations. It stood as a place of contemplation, where one could let go of things, set aside the pain of the past, and then sit back on a Sunday evening and watch it all burn.
The image is striking, reminding me of something I experienced on a smaller scale several years ago. As part of a weight-loss group, we were encouraged to write down all the things that kept us from moving forward in life, all the grudges we held and hurts we harbored. We sealed them in envelopes and then burned them in a big, rusty trash barrel.
The power of such an event lies not in the flames or the ash left behind, but in the release that one experiences in letting go of the things that, as intangible as they may be, take up space and stink up our hearts. Our minds. Our souls. However you say it, regardless of what you believe about our “spiritual” nature, the dark places are perceived as real. And even if it is just a mental exercise, the attic needs to be swept clean on occasion.
Sometimes, the whole structure needs to be burned to the ground.
As I set my sights on another year, I wonder . . . what do I cling to that needs to be set ablaze?
Before that big ball drops . . .
This is our need . . .