Writing this has been on my mind for a while now, because of something I found a few weeks ago. My kitchen counter wisdom (my laptop typically resides on my kitchen counter) comes to you today via a small, green scrap of paper that's been tucked away in my Bible for years. On it is a prescription for repairing broken relationships. Who doesn't have one of these?! It's entitled "The Process of Forgiveness." And while it seemingly doesn't have much to do with art, if you look deeper, it really does. Turns out, forgiveness is not just a "do it once and it's over" proposition. It's something that requires time, thoughtfulness, finesse, and an unusual amount of effort. It's a three step program that is complicated by the fact that some of the steps require the cooperation of more than one party.
Step 1 is the actual act of forgiveness. This is a unilateral step, which means that it only takes one person to forgive. So, this means that you alone are responsible for forgiving or accepting forgiveness. This is the easy part...right? You forgive, you forget, everything is rosy. But, what about the next time you think of the hurtful incident? What about that negative feeling of resentment that creeps back in, just when you thought you'd mastered it? And, hey, what if you just don't get those warm, fuzzy forgiveness feelings? You know the saying, "what comes around, goes around?" My reference book on forgiveness says the same: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Mt 6:14-15
Like the any skill or craft, forgiveness must be practiced to be perfected. The great writer, C.S. Lewis, says this: "There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, "You've given up smoking once; I've given it up a dozen times." In the same way I could say of a certain man, "Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I've forgiven him more times that I can count." For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again."
Step 2 is reconciliation and is bilateral...meaning, it goes both ways. It involves repentance, restitution and change. Both parties must be sorry, try to remedy the situation and make a change in behavior. So, here's where it gets a little tricky because one party cannot necessarily make the other party do any of these things. You can do it on your side, but you'll be dancing alone!
Again, C.S. Lewis (such a smart man!): "Forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered if it is to be complete: and a man who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness."
It's hard to forgive someone who isn't sorry and it's hard to reconcile with someone who won't accept an apology. And, it doesn't count to just say "I'm sorry you feel that way." This is a faux- fession...a head fake kind of thing...a mock "my bad."
Step 3 is another bilateral action: restoration. If forgiveness and reconciliation are the "kiss," restoration is the "make up." This is the new beginning and renewal of trust...the part where the relationship truly begins to be healed. You can see why step three takes both parties.
Any number of things can get in the way of the three step program...pride, anger, emotion...human nature. The process can partially or totally break down at any given moment. That's why it's not easy. That's why it's something that has to be worked at...every day. It's something that's made much easier if we rely on the example of the One who was an expert on forgiveness and the perfect example, and if we strive to be imitators of God.
That's all for this installment of kitchen counter wisdom. I hope my little slip of paper has helped you as much as it helped me! Practice, practice, practice...