Forgiveness has never been my forte. It’s embarrassing to admit that I’m still pretty bitter about the time that my little sister took my brand-new and very treasured Molly doll, claimed it was hers, stole away to another room, chopped off all of her hair, and then returned the mangled doll to me saying she “just remembered” Molly was mine.
Still bitter. Nearly 20 years later and I’m still attached to a cloth representation of a supporting character from a 90’s children’s television show.
I’m like, the Chuck Norris of grudge-holding.
I’m not totally sure where my inability to forgive comes from, but it’s probably somewhere between my abnormally retentive emotional memory and my stubborn German pride.
Regardless, it’s something I’ve been wanting to fix for years with almost no progress and I’ve finally figured out why:
Forgiveness doesn’t make any sense.
None. Absolutely none.
At least, not the way I grew up understanding it and perhaps that’s part of the problem.
Society sends us two main messages about our emotions and how we should react to them:
- You can’t control your emotions. They are what they are and they’re a part of you. To suppress them is to deny who you are. Embrace yourself and do whatever you feel like! To be yourself is to express yourself–and if anyone doesn’t like that, we’ll just shame them on Twitter.
- The reason we’re shaming them on social media is because they disapprove of something and we believe they shouldn’t feel that way. If they keep on feeling that way, they shouldn’t express it.
In other words, society gets us nowhere when it comes to emotions and reactions. (It’s just a thought, but perhaps this lack of self-control is part of the reason society has so many problems.)
It’s not surprising, then, that popular thought is even less helpful when it comes to understanding forgiveness, which is proposed as a simultaneous embracing and disregarding of one’s own experience. In other words, the world’s take on forgiveness can be summed up as follows:
Once you choose to forgive someone, basically everything goes away and we try to forget it ever happened. You can’t feel hurt or angry anymore because, hey, you forgave him. Of course, to make this possible, you really should wait to forgive people until you really feel like everything’s better.
But somehow, deep down, we all know that forgiveness is supposed to make things better. The above philosophy on forgiveness, then, can be further summed up like this:
Don’t take the action to make everything better until everything is magically better.
No wonder we’re all so janked up. By this definition, not only does forgiveness make no sense, but it’s actually unhealthy.
So what is forgiveness, then? We know it exists because we’ve seen people do it (St. John Paul II, Robert Rule, Nelson Mandela, etc), even if it doesn’t make any sense to us. We see it and we know, once we take off our straightjackets of pride, that ultimately we really want it, but how on earth do we come by it?
Great question. I don’t have an answer.
But even without the cure, the diagnosis is critical; and world, we’ve just been diagnosed with an acute case of Crap We’ve Been Wrong This Entire Time. (You’d think that after millions of years, we’d have built up an immunity to that.)
For now, I’m embarking on an adventure to track down real forgiveness, and this quest is going to put the seekers of the Holy Grail to shame.
I’m taking tools to help me along the way: my trusty Bible, lots of time in adoration, my own reason, and the words of those wiser than me (I’ve already made some promising progress with this book, and I’m only on Chapter 3). There’s going to be prayer, fasting, sacraments, and plenty of chocolate.
I’m sick of the grudges, so I’m finding a way out. It’s going to be one heck of a ride. Are you in?