“Of course I forgive her. She’s my mother. She was doing the best she could. You should hear what grandpa did to her!” “Carly” (a composite client) had just told me how her mother had beaten her. With very little emotion, she’d reported how her mom had used sticks, rulers, and bare hands on her legs, her bottom, and sometimes her face. I hadn’t asked about forgiveness. She’d volunteered that.
“I’m glad to hear you say you forgive her because God calls us to forgiveness for our own good. And yet, I think there’s more you need to explore. Can you talk about what it was like for you at six?” I smiled at her. I’d been seeing her for three months, but this was the first time she’d discussed her childhood. She’d come in for therapy because she couldn’t hold a job.
A tear fell from her left eye before she turned to stare out the window. “It was hell. I was afraid to go home after school. I didn’t know what kind of mood she’d be in. I remember one day. I thought she was okay. We were making muffins together for dinner. I was excited about something or other and spilled the batter. She slapped me in the face. I never baked with her again.”
Gently, I asked a few more questions, but that was all. Carly wasn’t ready. And she didn’t come back. I’ve never seen her again but when something reminds me of her, I ask Jesus to give her courage and comfort.
Forgiveness is more than saying the words, “I forgive her.” I believe Carly did forgive her mom, as far as she knew at that time. And yet, she needed to explore much more of her pain. And each level of pain requires its own extending of forgiveness.
When “forgiveness” is used as a way to short-circuit the process of mourning the losses, it becomes less than God intends. When God forgave our sins, he felt the pain. On the cross, in Jesus, God mourned.
He felt the pain of all our rejection, indifference, and spurning of his affection. Only then was the forgiveness complete. Our forgiveness is complete when we follow his example.
Where are you in your forgiveness processes? What’s the next step?
Father, we need your courage and comfort to forgive. Work out your wholeness in us. For your glory.