Excerpts from the book Forgiveness - ONE STEP at a TIME, by Joseph F.Sica. Now available at CatholicNews Bookshop
Talk is Cheap, Action Divine
It's easy to talk about how important forgiveness is, but much tougher to actually do it in real life. Real-deal followers take Jesus seriously when it comes to forgiveness. Real-deal followers know forgiveness is not a superficial event; they also know it isn't as cut-and-dried as ignoring "unforgivable" behavior. Forgiveness-true forgiveness-isn't about approving damaging behavior or forgetting about what was said or done. These actions always remain a part of our lives; just ask Betsy! Instead, forgiveness is about making what is tragically broken right again.
Forgiveness is about a deep healing, a thorough repair of broken relationships, a removal of the poison that destroys love and harmony, a restoration of wholeness and open trust. It's the only way to reshape our relationships from the straight line of anger and vindictiveness to the curve of connection. Few of us escape the natural, almost primal urge for revenge. Every single one of us has been hurt by someone else. It may have been a parent who didn't protect us, a sibling who abused us, a friend who betrayed us, a spouse who took us for granted, a pastor who should have been more attentive, a committee member who opposed us, or hundreds of other possibilities that make life's many relationships seem more like land mines of opportunity, ripe for betrayal. Action can be as hurtful as inaction, and vice versa; it may have been something that somebody should have done but didn't. It may be something that took place over many years. It may be something that happened in a moment.
When we hurt, we naturally want to strike back. We're only human, after all. It's in our nature to seek revenge. We think we need an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Thanks to the "get even" attitude of our modem society, or simply the blaze and haze that accompanies the act of betrayal, we often lose perspective.
Regardless, when someone wrongs us, we want them to pay. When someone makes us suffer, we want them to know the same (or greater) kind of suffering. We want justice. We want the other person to know the pain they inflicted, publicly if possible-privately at bare minimum. And if we can't have justice in some physical way that validates our rage, we vow we'll never have a relationship with that person again. The problem: we don't know when to stop. We want the scales tipped in our favor regardless of the cost, the duration, or the expiration date.
Why is it that happiness is so fleeting and revenge so permanent? Ask people when the last time somebody helped them, complimented, or befriended them was, and you can practically hear crickets chirping as you await a reply. But ask someone when they were last wronged, insulted, cut off in traffic, or betrayed, even ten or twenty years ago, and they remember every detail.
Although we've often spent years developing a relationship, we can still allow a single harsh statement or a thoughtless act to destroy everything we feel for that person. There seem to be no "gray areas" when it comes to revenge; if you're not with us, you're against us. We forget the good, and rationalize bitter, vindictive scenarios that weaken our personality, our happiness, our hope, and our spirit.
But it doesn't have to be this way. When someone we trusted hurts us badly, we do have choices:
1. Go our separate ways. Never talk again.
2. Live with accusation, blame, and anger.
3. Bear grudges, nurse hate, or seek revenge.
4. Pretend everything is fine. Bury our feelings.
5. Keep chewing on that hurt. Never let it heal.
6. Talk it through face-to-face with the person and forgive.
Unfortunately, we too often choose to hold a grudge rather than confronting and forgiving. We keep dipping into our store of grievances to find yet another weapon to lob at our opponent:
1. "And another thing ... "
2. "You always ... "
3. "You never. .. "
4. "You did the same thing last week. .. "
5. "I've never forgotten how you ... "
Ten Simple Steps
The choice is up to you, of course. No one can tell you the proper time, or even way, to forgive. As for myself, I can only point out the harm that refusing to forgive can cause, as I've seen it played out time and time again with parishioners or patients who refuse to let go of that hurt-long after the grievance has occurred.
It is said that grief has many stages and that there's a natural progression in the grieving process. I propose that forgiveness is much the same. For me, in fact, forgiveness is a well-choreographed dance with ten distinctive steps.
1. Ruined: handling injury
2. Retreat: getting stuck
3. Revenge: wanting payback
4. Rehearse: telling everybody
5. Rethink: waking up
6. Respond: loving confrontation
7. Reminder: setting boundaries
8. Repair: patching up
9. Reward: reaping benefits
10. Release: moving on