The pain isn’t the enemy. Pain is the indicator that brokenness exists….Pain is the gift that motivates us to fight with brave tenacity and fierce determination knowing there’s healing on the other side.
-Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited, p. 173
The next morning I ate breakfast alone with (fittingly enough) Uninvited, and I cried in the restaurant, and then I felt foolish for crying in the restaurant – we are so ashamed of our own pain – but even so. I became aware of another reason I need to feel the fullness of my hurt:
So I can forgive.
There are two situations in my life right now in which I have been fighting – mostly successfully, I had thought – to forgive people who hurt me. In both cases, there was a betrayal that not only ripped the scab off old injuries but carved deeper furrows into the festering mess of those unhealed wounds. And if that sounds melodramatic and hyperbolic, well, pain often is. If pain weren’t so extreme, after all, we wouldn’t go to such extremes to avoid it, stifle it, repress it, deny it.
Part of my process of forgiving, in both situations, was to try to understand the role these betrayals had played in my life, to see why maybe they were blessings in the broader picture even though they felt more like curses in the moment. To view the losses as necessary, even good. Like the biblical Joseph, I wanted to be able to say, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20A, RSV). But without consciously realizing it, in doing this I was glossing over the injuries I had suffered. I wasn’t making excuses for the people who hurt me, but I was trying to deny their power in my life by refusing to let myself feel the full extent of the pain they had caused.
I’ve always wanted to be invincible. To laugh off wounds and tell anyone who has tried to hurt me that they aren’t significant enough to inflict damage; I can endure a lot worse than anything you can dish out, so bring it, oh, and also fuck off and go to hell.
So much of the persona I constructed to see myself through this life is about being tough, invulnerable, impervious, darker than the darkest things anyone else can throw at me. I am only now coming to realize how much of that is a response to being wounded at a formative age in ways that run deeper than coherent narrative and linear memory, ways that funnel straight to the marrow of how I have always conceived myself.
Separating who I am from that persona is a difficult process, and so is stepping away from that carapace. Stripping it off, letting myself be vulnerable, and experiencing the truth that vulnerability is often met with rejection – that hurts like hell.
But until I acknowledge and experience the pain, I can’t truly forgive. Because forgiveness requires admitting that I have been hurt – that there is a wrong to forgive. If I minimize the injury, then I don’t just gaslight myself; I also reduce both the challenge and the power of my forgiveness. And I deny these people the truth of the role they have played in my life: that they did matter, that they were important to me, that I cared for them.
Later, as I sat in a sun-drenched square listening to the gentle splash of a fountain and watched an anole change color on a lightpost, I realized something else about my forgiveness: how conditional and therefore tenuous it is.
Both of these situations entailed losing people I cared about, and those losses have left holes in my life. I don’t want to forgive, forget, and walk away; I want reconciliation. I want to sit with these people and acknowledge the ways in which we failed at loving each other – because the failures of love weren’t one-sided; they so rarely are – and honestly explore how we can love better in the future. I have longed and hoped and prayed for and believed in those reconciliations. And I have wanted them so deeply that without consciously realizing it, I was making my forgiveness contingent on them: “I can forgive because I know this will be made right.”
Sometimes when we feel rejected and passed over for someone else, when God seems busy elsewhere or even purposefully unmoving, the truth is he is at work, maybe doing something entirely beyond what we were thinking.
-Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited, p. 106
But it might not be. I can’t do more to mend these relationships than I have already done; the other parties have chosen to walk away. On my best days I can hope and believe and trust that God is working in ways I can’t even imagine; I’m still grappling with theodicy, but what I know is that God plays three-dimensional chess while I’m scratching my way across the checkerboard. But I don’t know what that work looks like or how long it will take or how, even whether, it will manifest in ways I get to see.
And that means I have to forgive, not knowing whether the outcome will be what I long for. I have to forgive, and then I have to open my hands and my heart and let go the need – although not the hope, never the hope – for reconciliation.
Faith isn’t faith until it’s all you’re holding on to. If you don’t have anything left to grasp, you continue to reach toward God.
-Craig Groeschel, Hope in the Dark, p. 105