I missed commenting on Barry’s recent post that reflected so deeply on forgiveness-we got to 50 comments so fast, so I am opening a new thread.
Over the last few days I have been reading Barry’s post and the comments as they arise and I will admit I have cried many times, sat in silence many times, and prayed many times. The stories and thoughts that have been shared are deeply sacred to me and I am humbled to have read them. I have been thinking of Henri Nouwen and his book The Wounded Healer which I read many moons ago and how it was the first book that welcomed me into my life-long quest to learn empathy. I am reminded of the grieving people I had the chance to host and hear this past year and how every story of family and death reminded me that everywhere I go—the frozen yogurt place, Target, the grocery store, church, etc.—I am surrounded by people who are most likely carrying something, a weight, a memory, a loss, a burden beyond my comprehending and that the call to kindness and a tenderness of heart never ends. I never cease to be stunned by the depth of cruelty that humans can embody and inflict, and conversely by the depth of resilience that can be expressed in the face and aftermath of cruelty.
Forgiveness is a mystery to me. Sure, I can read about it, study it, dig into scripture, read memoirs, define it, and yes, all those things will help me understand how and why forgiveness has been expressed by others, but in my own life forgiveness (both the receiving of it and the giving of it) remain a mystery and always hold a bit of the miraculous. As a pastor, forgiveness is always balanced with confession as peace is always balanced with justice. I’ve only been involved in restorative justice in a cursory way that involved non-violent juvenile offenders and the goal there was to help the teenager see the greater impact his/her choices made on the broader community. Overall this tack has been successful, although I’ve often wondered how the process relates to the still forming frontal lobes of teenagers.
I feel like I could write and write, but I’ll close again by saying thank you to everyone who has shared here and that you remind me to keep my eyes open and be a witness to those experiencing any level of brokenness in their relationships and to remember that being a witness will change in each situation—sometimes I can intervene (like for a child) but for my fellow adults witness means simply being present and trying to create safe space for them to define how they want to respond, honoring that choice in the moment, and remembering that those choices may change and fluctuate over time.
For further discussion I have often pondered the work of Dr. Ira Byrock who wrote The Four Things That Matter Most a book that inspired many hospices, included the one where I served, in a core care planning tasks of helping individuals express four (and we expanded it to five) key things a person can express before death, often called “end of life closure:”
1) Please forgive me.
2) I forgive you.
3) Thank you.
4) I love you.
As you can imagine, the form and tenor of each phrase is shaped by countless particulars of history, ability and willingness and the living of each expresses a depth of character, hope, and truth that never ceases to fascinate me. However, the previous comment thread reminded me that these phrases always need a context of reality, truth-telling, and definition of terms. I find that having an interdisciplinary team offering analysis and tools to create space for individuals to explore these expressions on their own terms helpful, but I realize that in this day and age, a blog becomes an on-line interdisciplinary team of both challenge and hope. It feels as though public presence has shifted and that the ability of witness has both shifted and become more available but just as difficult.