"So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God." Matthew 5:23-24
Forgiveness is often approached from the victim's perspective but Jesus, in this passage, is clearly asking the one who has abused another to act to restore the relationship before reconciliation can occur. Forgiveness is a difficult topic. So often we hear - "you have to forgive." When a person who has been the victim of abuse or a crime hears this - it adds to the pain. Clinging to bitterness, guilt and disabling pain obviously does not help us to live a full and joy-filled life but what are the steps to help us attain freedom and return to the joy of living?
One aspect is acknowledging what has happened. The depth of the injury to our minds, bodies and souls. This is often accompanied by deep grief and rage. Finding an appropriate way to express these feelings is important - a caring friend, a counselor, a spiritual director can be resources. Once in touch with the reality of our situation - our feelings can give us energy to address what we will do. Rage can be destructive to us and those around us or it can be used creatively. It can give us the energy to get out of the situation and it can used to work for justice. The creative use of our feelings can assist others and systems to change. An example of this is MADD - Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Women who used their grief and anger to change laws.
Another is accepting that the past cannot be changed. No matter how much we would like it - this event is a part of our life. How we live from this day on is the only open question. Until we live in the reality of life - we keep trying to live in illusions and expect change where it is not possible.
A learning from the 12 Step Programs is another facet of forgiveness. The full and searching inventory of our own lives - and then making amends wherever possible. Part of the cycle of forgiveness is to become aware of the places where we have inflicted injury on others and doing something about seeking forgiveness. There is a danger here for us if we blame ourselves for the behavior of others towards us. But this step helps us avoid self-righteousness in our relationships.
Self forgiveness is another facet of moving into freedom from pain and bitterness. Often this is the most difficult step of all. Part of this step involves - accepting what we are responsible for and what we are not. Both are important.
We do not allow others to continue to victimize us, but seek a way to freedom. We cannot rush this process - we open ourselves to reconciliation with God, ourselves and others. We allow love to fill the broken spaces and one day we hope to live into fullness of life.