I remember as a child being taught to say “sorry”, an important tenet along with with “please” and “thank you” in the mix of learning numbers, letters, shapes, and colors. It was something that was understood was needed to interact with others, even if superficially. As adults, we say sorry when we bump into someone or even slightly inconvenience a stranger. We may say sorry when we have wronged a partner or spouse. What we see on television are sometimes melodramatic scenes of intense emotions with begging, sobbing, and flowers. Though at times done in passing, apologies and forgiveness as a deeper concept is one that I think often eludes us. We understand its value, but are not quite sure how to navigate its messiness. It’s a deeply vulnerable act, one fraught at times with fear and anxiety and from a place of startling honesty. It seems simple enough: the idea is that we needed to be mindful of others, that we needed to own our mistakes and acknowledge them, and make it right with the person we have wronged, sometimes including ourselves. But like many good things, it’s easier said than done.
We have to come to a place of transparency with ourselves when we have done something that we know was not the best. There are moments when that comes on suddenly, like a pit in our stomach, other times it lingers and the realization comes after awhile, and then there are the situations when someone lets us know that something is not right. In all these instances, our sense of self is shaken. It is difficult to admit that we are not perfect or right; this is not only the case with ourselves but then to show that “weakness” to others feels mortifying, uncomfortable, distressing even. Going through this process takes a lot of courage and even with repeated effort, each instance is a challenge.
So how do we integrate this into our daily lives when society talks about the need for forgiveness and the role it should play in our relationships, yet in our society when we look around we don’t see it really encouraged, supported, or even celebrated? We see these rare, magnificent instances where we are in admiration when someone or group of people participate in the work of forgiveness, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, Quakers forgiving the perpetrator of a school shooting, or any other victims forgiving their assailants for tragic events expressed during press conferences. We live in a world that values retribution. If someone has done something wrong, they must pay the price and reap the consequences. Forgiveness is a tricky and complex thing. Should there always be ramifications for actions and/or words of wrongdoing? Are there things that are easy to forgive or excusable or ones that are unforgivable? Do we forgive and forget? What does it mean to forgive and not forget? How does forgiveness or lack thereof impact us? Personally? Relationally? Spiritually? Psychologically?
Sadly this is not something that can be fully delved into here but I want to remind us of the importance and how imperative forgiveness is. I believe that forgiveness, in its truest and most authentic form, is actually a radical act, that goes against logical or the mythical weighing scale of rights and wrongs, which is our natural tendency. It is the anecdote to genuine and transparent relationships, between ourselves and others. It is a powerful force. One of Jesus’ core messages was about forgiveness, and people either were in awe and scoffed at him for such an idea. How different would our world be if we actually prioritized and practiced forgiveness? What if we took the time to examine and forgive ourselves for the things that we regret and keep holding on to that impede us from moving forward, stepping out and living life more fully? What would happen if we were more honest and open with/about those who have hurt us? What if we could share/engage with our pain and then go through the process of healing from these wounds? …whether we ever talk to a person and get an apology? Forgiveness has the power to restore or to destroy us, if we choose not to be partake in it. It is not neutral. We must choose which path we will take, each day as we navigate the various relationships in our lives. We must make forgiveness truly a tenet in our lives if we wish to live in to the teachings of Jesus, if we want to live lives that are liberating, whole, and full of love. There will be challenges, there will be frustration, and there will be setbacks. But as we know nothing good comes easy. May we be given the grace, courage, and strength to pursue our calling to fulfill our life’s work of reconciliation.
-Austin corps member