I imagine that we all have different styles for processing feelings, ranging from total avoidance to sorting through them deliberately and slowly to wanting to jump in and get the issue all solved. While I have taken all three approaches, my own reaction is often to want to actively solve the issue, right now. If I have decided that I want to forgive, I might wish that I could find the “one thing” that could make forgiveness happen. And yet it does not always work out that way.
At least in the tougher cases, we cannot rush forgiveness, because it is a process. Pretending that we can get to the finish line without running the race, to borrow a metaphor from St. Paul (2 Timothy 4:7), doesn’t help! I have found three good reasons to take a resting point during that slow “race” to forgiveness.
Hand Over the Process to God
Imagine, for example, two siblings who have had conflict over how to handle a difficult family situation. Maybe there is an aging parent to care for and different opinions about how to handle that care. Maybe some unkind words were exchanged in the heat of the moment, and despite everyone’s best efforts, there is residual pain. Or maybe I find myself having given my all in prayer, and yet something still feels unfinished.
If any of these situations rings true, it can help to take a step back and rest for a while. Sometimes, it helps to take a break from trying too hard and hand the process over to God. After all, God is not merely there to give us good advice and guidance, though surely God does this. God is always more. God also acts creatively to bring love, healing, hope, and new life into situations where they are absent. Why not let God take over for a bit, and rest?
We also can use a resting place in order to let ourselves just breathe a little and see what the lay of the land is right now. Imagine hiking to the top of a mountain and forgetting to take in the view before traveling on. There is beauty even partway through the journey, even as we struggle.
In some of my past instances of forgiveness, I was further along the road than I at first realized, because my own worn-out stories about the state of my heart were long overdue to change. My soul and my relationships really had undergone some shifts, but it took me time to see that.
Name the Graces
It can help to stop and name the graces. For example, perhaps we have grown to understand another person’s views just a little more. Sure, maybe there is still some distance between the parties, but the distance is less now. That is a grace. Or perhaps we find that the need to feel understood by the other person has dissipated, because we have discovered how much God understands and has been faithfully accompanying us. Maybe we find ourselves simply more cheerful, generous, or freer than before.
Ask God to help you review what you have experienced so far—whether you feel close or far from the end of this process of forgiveness—and look for the grace. Where have you experienced God’s gracious love so far? How would you like to respond?
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