Being unable to forgive is a serious burden for the person who struggles to forgive. It can and often does have serious emotional, physical and spiritual implications. It can become a burden that dominates a life, getting in the way of everything else. Even when it doesn’t reach those levels, the burden of being unable to forgive is heavy.
But even with all of that, even knowing the cost, even knowing how heavy the burden is, many of us will still choose to hold on to our forgiveness. We might feel guilty, we know we should forgive and on some levels, we might even want to forgive but we just can’t do it. We can’t bring ourselves to forgive and let the burden go. So, what are we to do?
Well, for some of us, maybe forgiveness isn’t like an on-off switch but a process. Maybe our forgiveness is given a bit at a time, as we are able and when we are able. Maybe we have to approach it as a process where we spend time looking at our feelings and thoughts and desires to discover just how much we have been hurt and are continuing to hurt. We look at the pain we feel, the reasons we feel the pain, the reasons we feel we can’t forgive. We look at our faith and how it is being affected by our inability to forgive. We discover the weight of the burden that we are carrying and how much it is affecting us.
We seek to be honest with ourselves, asking ourselves what we gain by not forgiving; what we hope our not forgiving will accomplish; what effect our not forgiving will have on the overall situation; how much not forgiving is hurting us. And in the process, we ask ourselves if we would like to be able to forgive and get out from under the burden we are carrying.
If we are content to carry our burden, knowing all that it means and all the effects it is having on us, we can keep going. It is our burden, we have chosen it and are choosing to keep it. We have looked and we understand and we are choosing to keep it. It may not be a wise or rational but it is our decision and as long as we understand what we are doing, we can do it.
However, if and when we begin to see the less than desirable side of carrying such a heavy and potentially debilitating burden, we can begin a process of unloading it by allowing ourselves to do as much forgiveness as we can at any given time. Even allowing ourselves to be open to the possibility of maybe sometime being able to forgive is a start. Maybe we can find some small part of the thing to forgive. Maybe we can spend a bit of time and energy trying to look at things from a different perspective. Maybe we can begin to think a bit about what it would be like not to have to carry the burden of unforgiveness around.
Maybe we can even experiment with forgiveness, sort of like some people experiment with stopping a habit like smoking. They stop, they start again, they stop again in a cycle that often ends with them not smoking anymore.
So, we on strong days, we forgive–knowing that we might rescind it tomorrow–but for today we forgive. If we take it back, we try again at some point. Eventually, we will decide to either let it go or discover we can’t let it go and need to carry it around for the rest of our lives.
In short, for some things, we might need to see forgiveness as a process, an important process that is going to benefit us a lot more than it will benefit anyone else, including the person whom we are struggling to forgive. In the end, the lack of forgiveness is the burden we are carrying around and we are the ones most affected. And if the slow process helps us get to where we want to be, then we need to follow it, forgiving as much as we can as often as we can. What some seem to be able to do all at once, we may need to take a while to do–but the end result will be the same. We will either know that we have to carry the burden all the time or we will get rid of it.
May the peace of God be with you.