Forgiveness: The Victim’s Cure
by Carol McClain
“I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget.”
“Rosemary’s” brother had just scammed the family of precious possessions when their mother died. Overwhelmed with the loss of her last parent coupled with the treachery of her brother, Rosemary’s heart shattered like glass. Her heartache was as natural as breathing. She’d done nothing wrong, and the betrayal was her brother’s sin.
However, without truly forgiving—as she believed she had—every time Rosemary touched the memory, she bled.
She’s never forgotten because she’s never forgiven.
Throughout our lives, we’ve been scarred. Sometimes petty issues afflict us. For many, cruel horrors invade their lives. In my life, my parents’ alcoholism created grief that damaged my self-worth. Because of my childhood, I decided to do things I never should have, and I added pain to my own existence. This is a fact of my life, but I can no longer tell you any specific issues from my childhood. My father died young, and I know he’d hurt me. But what did he do?
I don’t remember.
Instead, I recall my walks to the edge of town in order to meet him when he came home from work or the long smooches he gave my mom while we clamored for dinner. His dissertations in response to any homework question we had made us not want to ask for help—a character trait that makes for funny stories today. He gave me a love for the stars and disdain for cigarettes.
The other issues? Like healed wounds, I have vague memories. If I pressed, I could rouse them from my subconscious, but by resurrecting them, the picked scabs would wound me. I’d rather summon up my astronomy-loving Dad holding me in his arms as he showed me Sputnik.
And my mother? She went to AA, became a Christian, and today I try to pattern my life on hers.
Forgiveness, you say, is fine for little things—for the ordinary offenses. But what about the most egregious? As I write, California mother Sherri Papini had just been freed from three weeks of torture. Gatlinburg burned and loved ones died from a fire started from human sources. The news is filled with stories of child molestation, rape, murder, arson, infidelity and drug deals.
Should these victims forgive?
Forgiveness has nothing to do with the offense. Never should we feel the need to say soul-searing pain is nothing. Forgiveness does not deny that the victim was violated, and the intolerable acts were acceptable. Sin is never acceptable. Neither are you forced to associate with the perpetrator. He or she won’t become your best friend.
However, forgiveness sets the captive free.
Rosemary still will not talk to her brother. Because of that, she takes his presence with her to the movies, to the spa, or when she rocks her son to sleep. He, on the other hand, isn’t aware of anything wrong in his life. He appears to live it with peace and abandon.
Rape victims fantasize about destroying their attackers. Relatives of murder victims can’t release their agony even in the execution of the criminal. Without forgiveness, these deeds cling to you like the smoke wildfires.
You bleed each time you touch the shattered surface.
God knows your pain. After all, He forgave the unpardonable. Upon the cross, after brutal torture despite His innocence, Jesus said, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” If He forgave, so can we.
These methods have worked well.
Make the decision to forgive. Alcoholics and drug addicts must admit their shortcomings in order to find sobriety. Likewise, in overcoming unforgiveness, we must decide this is something we will do. The anguish won’t necessarily go away instantaneously, but over time, it will fade.
Every time you replay the offense say, “I forgive.” At first, you’ll sound like a broken record. Eventually, you’ll find you’re “forgiving” less and the memories will distance themselves from your life.
Don’t expect the perpetrator to change. You are the one who needs to be healed. Other people are responsible for their own lives.
Talk to a trusted friend. This person must be a proven confident, not simply anyone who is within earshot.
Talk to a counselor. Broken friendships, insults, misunderstandings and other petty things can heal by themselves. However, for the monstrous issues, you need a trained professional be it a church pastor or a psychiatrist. Do not be ashamed to reach out for help.
Use your experience to heal others. We’ve heard of people who have started self-help groups, inspired legislation or simply have become mentors to those suffering the same heartache. By giving to others, your own sorrow can be calmed.
I’ve used each of the above and can attest to their efficacy. With forgiveness, the welt of a scar might remain, but the pain doesn’t.
Carol McClain is a writer of a popular blog and author of three novels. Her latest, The Poison We Drink, deals with the relief forgiveness brings.
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