My office was silent except for the tick… tick… tick… of the clock on the wall. Shadows encircled us, our only light coming from a nearby lamp. I sat across from her in my chair, leaning in. Up until now she had been sitting back on the love seat telling me her story; her face distorted with pain, eyes begging for relief as tears streamed down her cheeks. Now, in the silence, she was bent over, her face in her hands, quietly crying. I let her weep.
Her tears spent she lifted her face and looked at me. Shame clouded the pain in her cried-out eyes. “I know I have to forgive him,” she said, “I just…” “No you don’t,” … “can’t,” we said at the same time. “But my pastor… everybody says”, her voice trailed off, pleading . “No, you don’t,” I said a little more firmly and held her eyes with mine.
It’s a curious thing to say, “no you don’t have to forgive,” especially for a Christian, pastor’s wife, therapist. Generally the goal is to move people toward forgiveness. The idea being that with forgiveness comes release and freedom. What experience has shown me though is that the insistence of forgiveness inflicts further damage on the already broken.
Isaiah 42:3 says, “A bruised reed He will not break, a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.” Picture it with me.
“You should forgive him ” —-break. —-snuff. “Jesus forgave you so you really need to forgive him.” —-break. —- snuff. “If you don’t forgive, God can’t forgive you.” —-break. —-snuff. Any vapour of hope or dignity blown out by the breath of shame. What we are truly saying is,”your woundedness is a greater offense than what caused it,” “your grief and anger is a worse sin than what was done to you.”
What are we afraid of?
I wonder if our race to suggest forgiveness is actually our own discomfort. An ability to hold a place for another’s pain because it reminds us of our own. I’d like to suggest that instead of trying to relight the wick by blowing on it with forgiveness, we take a hold of compassion in one hand and empathy in the other. That we cup our hands around that smoldering wick. That we become the guardians of grief rather than a wind that tries to extinguish it. The freedom is not in the forgiveness, the freedom is in the grieving. In time, with compassion and empathy providing a protected place to grieve the smoldering wick will be free to light again.