For the last few years, I've struggled with forgiveness. Ever so often, a seemingly insignificant thing - a fragrance associated with a particular period of my life or person, a specific turn of phrase - will unearth an issue that I had buried, re-opening an old wound. Once, the smell of a just-warmed piece of pastry took me back to a previous job experience so swiftly that all I could do was set the plate aside and crumple into a ball of tears under the covers.
The idea of forgiveness, whether uttered by well-meaning friends and relatives, or preached in church, felt like putting a plaster on a festering sore. It felt like closing a door on an unresolved issue, like letting the guilty 'get away scot-free.' So many have confused forgiveness with reconciliation that any suggestion of having boundaries seems to be proof of not having truly forgiven. It seemed that forgiving meant being a doormat, silencing my hurts and acquiescing on some level to the idea that what happened was okay. I couldn't accept that.
Tentatively, I began to seek God on my own. What is forgiveness? What happens when I bless my enemies? What is the logic behind asking for good things to fall on the people who have hurt me? For a while, the response was simply: forgive them, bless them. I blessed them in their relationships with family members and colleagues, in their health and finances, on the roads and at home, with favour and new opportunities, open doors and success, etc. I struggled repeatedly to do it. Sometimes I blessed them through a lump of tears in my throat, at others I had to abandon the prayer until some other time. But as I kept trying, I had three realisations: the more I did it the calmer I felt, and the more at peace with myself and the world. I felt the hardness of my heart dissolve gradually and I became a little more open to newness. The second was that unjust actions actually repel blessing, so my prayers did not mean that my enemies' wrongs would be overlooked or rewarded. Rather, in a spiritual sense, I was taking my hands off of the situation so that God could intervene to exact justice. I was also breaking a negative cycle where old issues resurfaced with new faces; unforgiveness is often like a magnet drawing to you in seemingly unrelated situations and places, similar people and issues to the ones that you had before. The third realisation was that I was actually free to distance myself from people that did not accept or respect me. It didn't mean that I was not forgiving or loving, but simply putting my own emotional needs first.