Forgiveness can be complicated. I can think of times in my life when I wanted to forgive, but I felt “stuck” in something that stood in the way. For example, maybe I had a conflict with a family member when I continued to think that I was right and the other person was wrong. The obstacle to forgiveness was my need to be right and be validated in it! Sometimes I have been in conflicts when I knew that I did have a good share of the blame to bear, and an inability to forgive myself stood in the way to freedom. I did want to forgive, but I wanted other things too: love, acceptance, validation, an apology from another person.
One of the great gifts that I have received in learning more about Ignatian spirituality has been coming to understand that God wants to be with us exactly where we are in our process. So do good friends or spiritual directors. In fact, God is already right there with us; we just need to discover it.
Forgiveness is almost like going on a long hike. We have to pay attention to everything in the environment and look closely at the terrain in order to go deeper into the process. Years ago, my family went on a hike in the White Mountains over the course of a week, and we had to prepare for and negotiate changes in the temperature ranging from a hot June afternoon when short sleeves were a necessity to hail at one of the upper levels where we layered on our garments. It was one long path that we took to get to our destination, but there were many ups and downs along the way, and we needed patience and good companions to get us through.
One way that we can begin is to look honestly at our own desires. St. Ignatius advises beginning a prayer period in the Spiritual Exercises with two key elements: placing ourselves in the presence of God and asking for the grace that we desire. God truly cares about what we want, what we really desire, and not just what we think that we “ought to” want. That is how much God loves us.
We might start with a simple question: What do I want? Do I want to forgive, even a little bit? (The answer is probably yes, if one is still reading at this point.) Can I imagine being at a place later where I am freer, happier, more at peace, or more loving, even if I am not there yet? How do I feel about whatever has happened? Where is the hurt, anger, or whatever difficult feeling?
However we answer these questions, we can bring the real answers to God, because God wants a relationship with the real, authentic person. God is right there with us in whatever we are experiencing. We can start by telling our story to God and sharing what the lay of the land is for us, right here and right now. We can offer to God our desire for the grace to begin the process, even if we do not fully know the lay of the land ahead, because we know that God is our traveling companion along the way.