“We understand that everyone makes mistakes” was written on the walls of my classroom and now written on the walls of my home. This simple truth of humanity, so powerful and needed in times of self-contempt as well as others-contempt.
It is so easy to utter the words, I forgive you. But real forgiveness, forgiveness which comes from a changed heart has been a much more difficult thing for me to learn. For so many years, I would forgive on the surface, and tell myself I was supposed to be just fine, without realizing the effects of surface-level forgiveness on my heart.
Robotically, I can forgive. But I am learning, forgiveness is so much deeper than words.
We say we have forgiven yet still old on to bitterness, cynicism, and mistrust. Posh sayings like “forgive but don’t forget” are tangled up in our stories. These things which are the breeding ground for skewing the way we see our world. Bitterness holds on to hate. Cynicism, the faltering of hope. Mistrust, the walls which lead to isolation and loneliness.
And I am on a journey of freeing my heart from the tangled up messes of bitterness, cynicism, and mistrust.
Uttering the words, I forgive you, is simply not enough. Forgiveness is more than words, forgiveness must come from the heart. A heart that is changed, a heart, whose wounds are fully healed… or at least in the process of becoming fully healed. Transformed forgiveness takes time, it takes courage, and sometimes transformed forgiveness leaves us at the risk of loss.
On the path to transformed forgiveness, we must identify the pain and understand the wounds we carry in our own hearts. We can ask questions like: Why am I upset? What does this pain trigger in my own story?
Recently I felt wounded by a woman within my social circles. This wound was inflicted on social media, with passive aggressive words. My heart was broken. I could not understand her need to be cheeky on my personal post, I hardly know this woman, but even still, a wound was inflicted.
In my pain, I wanted to seek reconciliation. After several failed attempts, this woman was unwilling to speak with me, and I had to leave this story undone.
In the undoneness, I let the words of her comment fester. And these words then attached to the lies I so often believe about myself.
I am not good enough to be a pastor’s wife, church members will never like me, I too often say the wrong things, in the world of church, I am an outsider.
These I statements are all triggers for shame. Each I statement an opportunity for bitterness, cynicism, and mistrust to take root. Most often, when this happens I find myself withdrawing from others. When shame is triggered, I seek isolation. Shame causes me to hide.
Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough.” – Brene Brown
Can I forgive when things are left undone?
Sometimes, I just want those words, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” but in transformed forgiveness, I am learning it is my responsibility not to change the offender’s heart, but instead, investigate my own.
To forget about the speck in someone else’s eye and examine the plank in my own. To take responsibility for what is true and shut down what is false. To sit in the undoneness of the wound and do the hard work of determining why this moment was painful. To recognize patterns in what wounds me. To do the courageous work of recognizing the shame triggers. To be ready to shut down lies with truth. To be ready to see myself through the lens of humanity, to apply the words from the walls of my classroom, to my own heart. We understand that everyone makes mistakes.
When we realize we are responsible for our own hearts before God, when we rid them of the deep roots of bitterness, cynicism, and mistrust; this is when we are truly free to forgive and also let go. Shame has no reign in a heart transformed by forgiveness.
In transformed forgiveness we must also learn to forgive ourselves, for our own missteps. We must include ourselves in the statement, “we understand everyone makes mistakes”. When we expect that we are human, the path to forgiveness is a road much softer on the soles of our feet. We cannot be gracious to others until we are first gracious with ourselves. The unforgiven cannot forgive.
In transformed forgiveness, sometimes we need to make our wounds known. After several years of not confronting a relative who would continuously cross my personal boundary line, I finally spoke up to make my wounds known. In transformed forgiveness, we have to be brave enough to speak up and say, when you act a certain way, it hurts me. We are not made to always be “just fine”. We are human, our hearts break and our hearts hurt.
With this relative, I needed to speak up because in my “gracious” silence, bitterness was deeply rooted in my own heart. When I finally had the courage to communicate my wounds, I also communicated clear boundaries I needed for our relationship to move forward. This resulted in another conflict left undone, but a good opportunity for me to search my own heart. And after four years of distance, my heart has been purified from those wounds, all on its own. Sometimes a tree cannot heal unless the diseased branch is pruned away. This allows a healthier one to grow in its place.
When we make our wounds known, we are always at risk of those wounds being received with love or hate. But I am learning, it is not my responsibility to control what is going on in the hearts of others. I can only be responsible for my own heart.
We must set boundaries on the path to transformed forgiveness. Once we are able to recognize our own limitations we can respect the limitations of others and not be hurt by them. In our humanity, we are free to say, no, my human heart is not called to bear all things. Boundaries are not forever. I’ve heard it said by someone wiser than I, boundaries are fences with gates. It is always healthy to set a boundary, but know that your boundary has a gate that may be opened when you are personally ready for it to open.
When we understand that to err is human, we can see ourselves and others with empathy and compassion. In transformed forgiveness, we recognize we are all on the journey of making mistakes. We are all falling down and getting back up again. Everyone is fighting their own battles. We are all on different places on the journey.
In transformed forgiveness, we understand that I am not perfect and neither are you. Seeing ourselves and others through the lens of humanity, is the birthplace of forgiveness. We all really do make mistakes. We all have our stories, our shame triggers, our lies, our Achilles heels. It is our humanity that binds us together. The lens of pride blinds but the lens of humanity binds.
We understand that everyone makes mistakes. But we are not called to always be okay with them. We are called to understand our pain and free our hearts from the tangled up messes of bitterness, cynicism, and mistrust.
This is how I am transforming how I see forgiveness. I have to simply start with me and what’s happening beneath the surface.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2