What no one can forgive

When someone really hurts us, they hurt us in two ways. First is the immediate pain caused by their gross offense. Second is the emotional legacy born of that offense, the resentment and fear it creates within in us that we then have to live with for as long as it takes us to (as we’re so often told to do) “get over it.”

But how exactly do we “get over it”? What’s that actually mean? We know we’re internally burdened with anger, pain, and shame—and we know what to attribute those feelings to. But how in the world do we lose those feelings? How do we let that unwanted part of ourselves go? How do we rid ourselves of the awful load that stubbornly clings to us, because at some level we’re just so freakin’ angry at what was done to us that the idea of our “forgiving” the person who did it seems like an impossible fantasy.

“Be a good Christian,” we hear. “Forgive your transgressor, as God forgives you your transgressions.” “Release the pain.” “By not forgiving others you only harm yourself.” “To forgive is a choice. Why can’t you make that choice?”

And we lay awake at night wondering the same thing. Why can’t we make the choice to forgive? Why can’t we let it go, and “get over it”?

What is it that continuously blocks us from psychologically and spiritually releasing the resentment that we know is perhaps radically compromising the quality of our lives?

It is this: We cannot forgive what we cannot understand. And no sane person can understand evil. That’s what evil is: it’s the thing that can’t be understood. Evil lives just beyond the realm of human comprehension.

You can’t wrap your heart around what you can’t wrap your mind around. And if you’re sane, you can’t wrap your mind around evil.

I knew a man I’ll call Greg who, I later learned, was routinely sexually abusing his ten-year-old stepdaughter. Greg was doing this during at least the year I was friends with him, his wife, and their little girl. I used to help his stepdaughter with her homework; I helped her learn to enjoy writing. She and I were close.

Now, I can forgive Greg a lot. Mainly because I can understand that he himself grew up being sexually abused, and that that is what compelled him to act out in the sexually perverse manner that he did.

I get that. I understand that in a very real sense Greg is not responsible for becoming a monster. Like every child he was born innocent, and then twisted by twisted adults.

I can forgive Greg for what he became, because I can understand how he became so.

What I necessarily and naturally cannot do is to forgive Greg for what he actually did. My forgiveness must end the moment when Greg, in the middle of the night, quietly opens his daughter’s bedroom door. Because at the moment Greg purposefully wills what will happen into happening, evil has begun. And in the face of evil, forgiveness is rendered dumb. Shocked. Useless. It is neutered. It has no place there.

When evil has been done to you, forgive your transgressor all that you can. And that is a very great deal indeed: you can forgive all of the history that lead to the moment you were victimized. And it’s vital that you do go through the process of understanding as much as you can about why and how the person did to you what they did, because in so doing you establish parity with that person. Then the two of you are equals: every person, after all, struggles to overcome their baser nature.

Then you become not so much a victim as you were an accident of fate. Then you were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time: you were innocently crossing the road when the car they were crazily driving ran you over. And realizing that is what happened is critically important, because it establishes that what happened between the two of you was never really about you at all: it was always all about them. You, unfortunately, just happened to be there.

And knowing that offers some very solid relief.

It wasn’t you! It was never you! It was always them!

Cool.

Done.

Now all you have to do is contend with the part of what they did that lies outside of your understanding—the part that, despite what you keep being told, you remain unable to forgive.

Now all that’s left to you is the sheer evil of what was done to you.

And what is your only responsibility toward evil? What it can only be anyway?

To, insofar as you possibly can, stay away from it.

What do you do before a raging forest fire? You run! You get away!

You go to, or build, a place where the fire cannot get you.

No one “forgives” evil. No mere mortal can. But, if you are an adult in control of your life, what you can do is keep evil the blank away from you. You can insist that it go elsewhere.

It is your inviolate, absolute right to keep evil out of your life. All you have to do is claim that right.

You do not, in other words, have to keep in your life anyone whom you know ever did evil to you or anyone else. That is not part of what forgiveness is. You can forgive someone, if only in your heart, and still insist that they stay far away from you and yours. Forgiving a person and refusing to let that person into your life are not incompatible.

Meeting it with a firm “No!” is all it takes to make evil—which, despite its reputation, is pathetically weak, shamelessly opportunistic, and always cowardly—go away.

Forgive what you can; what is left banish from your life. That’s the way to find peace in the aftermath of something evil done against you.

 

For help with the issue of domestic violence, please see my short book  Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, and How to Defeat Each One of Them.  See also my post, Six Things to Know About Sexual Abuse and Forgiveness.

 

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Rebecca Trotter

    What has been very helpful to me are Jesus’ words to his disciples that what they forgive is forgiven in heaven and what they declare bound is bound in heaven. So sometimes I have told God that I want a person bound to what they did and then turn the whole thing over to God to deal with. I’ve found that this allows me to let go of the effects of what was done while feeling confident and comfortable that the person will be dealt with in a way that is perfect for both justice and the defender’s sake. I explain how this works here and I’ve had several people tell me it was helpful to them: http://youtu.be/lsXdrJIdPYY

    • mhelbert

      well, said, Rebecca!

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

    Your work on just this topic is so amazing, so compassionate, so helpful. I discovered it at a time where I desperately needed it, and I know I”m not the only one.
    Thank you yet again.

  • Becky

    I appreciate everything you have said, but what I am having trouble “getting over” is not something that most people would necessarily consider to be evil. I thought I had forgiven my husband for basically abandoning me with 4 small kids to finish a major project while he went to another country for a year with the military. I have discovered that I haven’t, and that event, that absolute disrespect forever damaged my feelings for him to the point that I am making plans to leave the marriage in a couple of years. I have tried so hard to forgive and let it go, but I can’t. Is his disrespect of me, and his selfishness evil? In light of what you said, is it okay then to not want him in my life anymore? That is where I am.

    • Bill Steffenhagen

      Hello Becky. I’m a vet tho not of combat and I have two military officer sons. Your mention of “military” in regard to your husband’s leaving brings questions to my mind that may bear upon your deliberations. It was apparently a military assignment. Did he have a choice? Was he being genuinely patriotic, or was he just playing big boy’s macho head games and wanted to go fight with the boys? Was he in a combat deployment? That can be very hard on a soldier. You don’t mention what he was like as a husband and father. Was he a loving husband and father, or distant? Did he leave you with a seriously difficult situation by choice? If he had a choice, I’d have to side more with you. With 4 children, his “duty” was with his family. Still, these things are never one sided. Do I detect a hint of vindictiveness in your letter? Is it fair to think he was overwhelmed and maybe “escaping” from you?
      You ask “us” if it’s okay to not want him anymore but we really don’t have enuf information to offer an answer. You speak of selfishness but do not provide enuf information for us to have some idea of who is more selfish; him or you. I don’t consider selfishness evil, tho it can result in evil actions. It’s more like a weakness we all suffer from in varying ways. And honestly, it isn’t our place to give you the answer you seek anyway. You must find that in your own heart. The bottom line question is this: In terms of getting thru life with 4 children, finances and some loving (if you can make that work), would your life be better or worse with him or without him.
      I hope I’ve given you some things to think about.

      • Becky

        Thanks for the thoughts, Bill. I apologize for the vagueness. My husband was in the Air Force and went on a one year remote tour to Iceland–no combat, and he had a great time. I knew what I was getting into when we married and we knew that this tour was coming. The kids and I could have gone with him, but we would have been there for 2 years and since I have to deal with seasonal affective disorder I chose to not go. In addition, we owned our house which complicated it further. However, him going on this tour was not the issue.
        The issue was the fact that he left me with a major house project unfinished and expected me to finish it for him–as a single parent. The project was finishing our basement, which I didn’t want to start in the first place, but went along with to make him happy. We had plenty of time to get it done before he left, but it didn’t happen because he’s not good at motivating himself, and I am not a nag. I am also very non-confrontational, probably to a fault, and he has never been good at respecting my feelings /opinions about things, but does what he wants regardless.
        For the past several years I have been taking a lot on myself and trying very hard to make things better, but it hasn’t gotten better. I have spent years taking all of the responsibility and trying my damnedest to be a good wife, but it doesn’t get better. I am coming to the conclusion that isn’t all me. I will take responsibility for my part, but it isn’t all me, and it never has been.
        Since this time, there have been other instances where I felt like he failed me, and it brought all of that back up for me again. It makes it hard to trust.

        • Bill Steffenhagen

          I do understand. I can’t pretend to have any answers for you. I’m divorced myself and I know these things are never easy, for either side, especially when children are involved…which is usually the case. I have a dear friend in prison now for his 6th (!) DUI, under revocation and breaking parole. He’s out in Nov and lucky he got only 18 months. But his wife has finally given up and is divorcing him and he’s desperate to retain a relationship with his 7yo son who he loves dearly and she, at one time a loving wife and mother, is now using the boy as a pawn in the process as my friend struggles to fight back with his limited resources. I hurt for them all at one time but no longer for her. I had some compassion for her as she sat with me on my porch last summer tearfully telling me how much she still loved him, but using the boy has earned my disrespect. My friend’s offenses are non-violent, he’s been very good with the boy and there’s no excuse for her vindictiveness that is hurting the boy. She could be using this instead as a teaching moment for the boy as a lesson in compassion and love. I advised her as much. She has apparently made a wrong choice that will come back to haunt her. My ex and I made sure we NEVER used our 2 boys against each other in any way and it paid off. We both have their respect. I trust you will also find the way of love and compassion for your children’s benefit.

          Anyway, you sound like deep down, you have made your decision. I don’t know if you remember Ann Landers, the advice columnist of half a generation ago, but she often used my last question to you. It’s a question only you can answer.

          I wish you well and God bless.

          • Becky

            Bill, I’m mad about a lot right now, but I am not rushing into anything. I am not doing anything that will disrupt the lives of my kids right now. My youngest will graduate high school in 2 years, and I won’t do anything before then. Like you, I would not use them to hurt my husband. I really don’t want to hurt him either, but neither do I want to continue to live with what I have allowed. Right now, I am exploring, planning, and seeking God above all else–that is my priority.

          • Bill Steffenhagen

            Hello Becky. I am glad to hear from you and that you aren’t permitting events to control your responses. That may be the more difficult process but it is the wiser.
            As for seeking God….I trust you are seeking It within yourself. You will not get an audible voice or a readily interpreted sign. Never mind Pat Robertson, it doesn’t work like that. This is how you do it; you make your own soul felt but probably painful decision TRUSTING that it is what God wants you to do. That is how I made my decision about being gay and letting divorce happen. I finally, in tears and agony prayed or talked to or whatever it’s called, said, “I can’t do this (the struggle) anymore. I’m going to go my way and if it’s wrong I am trusting that you will stop me.” He didn’t, and I have felt no discontent with that decision since because it wasn’t til after that, that I felt the powers of REAL Love and Joy and occasionally even,genuine Ecstasy.
            And I had to do it utterly alone. For obvious reasons I had no one to hold me up or pick me up when I was literally flat on my face in agonies. I’m guessing you are, at least, not so alone. Vaya con Dios, Becky.

          • Becky

            You are right, Bill. I am very much not alone. Thank you for sharing some of your story.

        • Alliecat04

          Ah, I see. The basement was the problem, not the deployment.

          My husband is also a world-class procrastinator, and maybe our agreement would help you. What we did was in a polite and non-confrontational moment when he was willing to admit his behavior wasn’t fair, we made a compact. If there is a task which is his and he doesn’t do it and I point it out, at that moment he has to set an exact date and time he will do it, which gets written down. If the date OF HIS CHOOSING passes and it still isn’t done, and I point it out, he has to stop whatever he is doing and do it that instant, no argument, no excuses. He had his chance to pick when he would do it, and he forfeited it.

          In having this discussion it’s best to avoid using the word “adult,” as in “If you would just act like an adult!” He also does not get to use the word nag, the phrase “you’re not my mother,” or sarcastically call me “ma’am.” On the other hand, reminding him that this is his house too and the work that he’s shirking is for his own benefit is very useful.

          This plan is still not optimal since it puts me in the position of being the bad guy, but I can honestly say it has prevented me from wanting to hit him over the head with a heavy object. And when he knows that if he blows off his obligations, I can and will wait until he’s in the middle of a video game he enjoys to remind him of his agreement, he usually chooses to finish things when he said he would.

    • Alliecat04

      I’m with Bill; you don’t provide enough information for me to understand your complaint. It sounds as if you are complaining because of where an active military person was assigned, which makes no sense, since he had no choice except to do it or go to jail. If this isn’t the case, would you please clarify?

      • Becky

        Alliecat04, see my reply to Bill. I explain more. I apologize for the vagueness.

        • Guest

          Personally, I don’t think you need to justify your feeling to strangers on the internet. You were left alone with your children for an extended period of time, when you wanted and needed your husband with you.

          The fact that his reason for being away was honorable doesn’t make your loneliness magimagically disappear, nor did it get all the things done that needed to be finished while he was gone

          We also have a lot of confusion about what it means to forgive somebody IMO

          It’s one thing to forgive someone – as in calm down, get over one’s anger, let something “go”

          its quite another to “forget” – to trust the other person again, to put things back together

          Does it say something about him that

  • Sugarbush43

    I really appreciate this. You made what I’ve been struggling with so clear. As I’ve told my counselor countless times, I get hurt and upset by things that people do that I would never do to anyone. I just cannot understand why a person would be cruel, in various ways, on purpose.

  • Matt

    My personal favorite (he said sarcastically): “Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

    Your writing on forgiveness is truly compassionate. Thank you.

  • JenellYB

    Thank you. I know I am not the only one that has at times suffered real difficulties with some common misunderstandings about forgiveness, that it does not mean one has to continue in contact with the offender, give them yet more opportunity to offend, against you, against others around you, people you care about, also hurt deeply. Too often others think that is what forgiveness means, even to the extent that if one does not forgive and ‘forget’, allow that other to stay on one’s life, it is you is this ‘wrong’ for being ‘unforgiving.’ Most devastating can be a conditioning, a belief system, that sees ‘forgive and forget’ and continue as before, if the offender merely apologizes, says their are sorry, as if that is all repentance is about. I’ve gone through it in relationships of more than one kind, most devastating, in marriage. Feeling pressured, by my own upbringing, and by others outside the matter, to accept “I’m sorry” that becomes “I SAID I’m sorry, what else can I do?” while demanding “another chance.” It seems crazy to me now, how long it took to really see that for what it was, another chance, at what? Another chance, to keep abusing? No, we don’t owe an offender that. All we owe them, and ourselves, is to put it behind us, and move on.

  • Pavitrasarala

    I think this is a wonderfully written article, and I wish I could fully agree with it, but I can’t. There are a couple sticking points that don’t sit well with me.

    The fact is there are many people who became monsters because they simply do not possess empathy. Narcissists and sociopaths fall into that category. Some people fall into certain habits and behaviors simply because they’re screwed up at the core and it has nothing to do with anything that did or didn’t happen to them.

    Luke 17:3 states we are to forgive IF our offender repents. The smallest word in that passage has the most power. “If” means forgiveness is conditional. St. Paul told the Ephesians to forgive as God forgives… and God does NOT forgive the unrepentant.

    A person can’t demand forgiveness as much as they might think they
    “deserve” or desire it if they don’t even regret or see anything wrong
    with what they’ve done. They can’t seek that from another person, and
    certainly not from God, if their mind and heart have not turned away
    from the fact that the wrongdoing is evil. It’s clear as day – we have
    no obligation to forgive a speck of anything someone does to harm us. Learning that, and letting that knowledge empower me so I could focus on my healing instead of feeling ashamed I couldn’t forgive at all, has been more freeing than trying to understand my abusers at any level.

    I also do not believe we are under obligation to understand someone who’s evil at the core, regardless of how they got there. I have bucketloads of knowledge about why my abusers became who they are and it has never helped me with developing any sort of parity or forgiveness toward them as people. I have empathy and compassion for the things that happened to them that they didn’t deserve, just like I would anyone else, but forgiveness? No. It simply doesn’t apply, it’s not appropriate, it’s not my place.

    I heard John Bradshaw use a similar analogy of getting run over by a car on one of his audiotapes about dysfunctional families back in the “inner child” movement of the ’80s. Didn’t work for me then, doesn’t work for me now. If I apply that to my circumstances, it feels like an excuse, and in all good conscience I need to protect myself better than that.

    I also do not think forgiveness and emotion are enmeshed. I believe you can forgive and still remain hurt and angry, because that’s still a human, normal, natural reaction to someone wounding you. When I’ve gotten angry remembering a past hurt, it’s the same outrage as I’ve felt when a friend shares that someone hurt them.

    Conversely, I believe you can move beyond a certain emotional state in response to the hurt because you’ve reached a certain stage in healing and still be unable to forgive because it simply isn’t the right thing. As a therapist once said to me, you can’t forgive if it isn’t there.

    I have made peace with much of my past. The rest, I’ve handed over to God. But to try and apply understanding or achieve parity with my abusers would do me more harm than good. I do not believe that is what God would want for me.

    Just my thoughts, take ‘em or leave ‘em.

  • Alliecat04

    This makes a lot of sense to me. About a decade ago a teacher and close friend of mine was murdered, and in the course of the trial I learned that the three teenaged killers had been terribly abused as children. One boy had lighter fluid poured over him and was set on fire by his own father when he was five years old. (Father, by the way, was questioned by police at the hospital, admitted it, and was not even arrested. What sort of sense does THAT make?) This boy and another of the killers were brothers and came from the same family of 12 children. Several of their younger siblings acted as lookouts and lied to police about my friend being there while they were killing her. The mother was interviewed by the news and said she should never have had children, she never wanted any. Really, she couldn’t figure that out before she had twelve?

    Anyway. My point is that these kids suffered unimaginably when they were children. It’s very easy to see what turned them into heartless, casual killers. Mix them in with their visiting cousin, a member of the Crips, and it’s no great wonder they carjacked and murdered a wonderful, generous, older lady. On one level I feel very sorry for them. On another level, I want them and everyone like them gone, removed, no longer a part of the same world I have to live in.

    The neat thing about God is that it seems God can do that, save the good bits of people and cherish and restore them, and exorcise the evil. I believe God can do that to ME, why should I doubt that God can do that to these kids?

  • lymis

    I don’t disagree with what you said, John. I think that’s an important part of dealing with one aspect of forgiveness.

    I think, though that a big part of the problem is that society has trained us to think and speak about forgiveness as essentially saying, “That’s okay, no harm done.” Or variations: “That’s okay, you couldn’t help it” or “That’s okay, you didn’t mean it.”

    What made the big difference for me, however, was changing what forgiveness means from the outward focus on “them” to the inward focus on “me.”

    Forgiveness – especially when we are dealing with the “getting over it” part, is about choosing not to let a past incident continue to do us new harm in the present. It doesn’t mean pretending it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean pretending it didn’t cause harm. It doesn’t mean pretending the other person didn’t intend it.

    It means saying “Whatever else is true, it’s over, and I won’t give it the power to continue to hurt me further.”

    That usually means letting go of the resentment, and choosing not to focus on whatever lingering effects of it are in terms of “if only.” Even if there are serious ongoing repercussions, it’s treating them as just the way things are and moving forward.

    So many people’s version of forgiveness is some image of pretending it never happened and going on with the relationship as though it didn’t. Still being friends. Still going to family parties. Loaning them more money or another item when they were careless or destructive of it the last time.

    Forgiveness can mean choosing never to see someone else again. Wish them well but understand that you can’t be around them, but that you won’t be bitter about it. Ending a friendship while not wishing them further harm. Calling the cops and letting the legal system take action, and then dropping it in your heart.

    When we step on a thorn, we don’t just forgive the rosebush. We pull out the thorn, clean the wound, bandage the foot, and stay off it while it heals, and then make sure to wear shoes in the garden. No, we don’t torch the rosebush, but we don’t just scamper out barefoot again next time, either.

    Not forgiving is more like leaving the thorn in and poking at it and hoping it heals anyway.

    Absolutely,things like knowing how they were damaged by previous events in their lives, understanding their motivations or intentions, especially when harm was not intended, and having a realistic perspective if the incident really was fairly minor all help with that process.

    But it doesn’t require us to pretend that what really happened didn’t really happen or that the hurt we experienced wasn’t real.

  • Bill Steffenhagen

    My mother died thinking I’m going to hell for being gay. I know that because she told me. Being old school Republican traditionalist Lutherans, I knew my parents couldn’t, and therefore wouldn’t, understand or even try to. But even so, I was shocked to read that in her letter to me that was part of a correspondence on the subject between me on one side, and my parents and siblings on the other. Their unwillingness to even try to learn anything from me made me angry. In the same letter my mother said “We have nothing to learn and share” in response to my repeated offers to share my knowledge of the subject. (I probably have an informal Masters equivalent in my head) All along I thot I had come from a better family intellect than that. It shattered my illusions about those who should have been closest to me. And I wasn’t a kid anymore. That happened in my mid 40′s after my divorce (the only one in our entire extended family at the time…and since). That, along with the equally resistant attitudes of my siblings, angered me enuf that I almost didn’t go to her funeral….and I let them know it. But I relented.

    Mother was a lovely woman of many fine qualities. A girl from the Chicago burbs married to a Minnesota farmer, she lost her dreams and gave up her considerable cultural talents to a farm life and 4 children. She lived with losses as we all do. She tried to understand my more gentle nature I think, but that, and later my homosexuality were evidently beyond her. Not that I was flamboyant. A little different as a teen I now realize, but as I matured, no one would have guessed if I didn’t tell them. (And they still don’t)

    So anyway, I had a choice. Stay away and wound my father and family with my angry absence or forgive and go to her….and to them. I made the choice I will never regret. I bot a single rose and laid it on my mother with the note, “Thank you mom, for everything.” And when I went to join my family, I got the first hug I remember ever getting from my father, in tears as he rejoiced that “my oldest son” came to be there for him.

    I didn’t go for the family. I honestly didn’t really care…..until dad hugged me. Then I knew why I went. But it wasn’t until sometime, whenever later that I began to understand that I went for myself as well. And tho dad and I never did talk together about anything of substance and thus, I never knew him, I was able to love him better after that too until he died. I suspect he realized HIS losses too.

    In her letters, mom made it clear that dad agreed with her in every word, but dad never did tell me himself. Or maybe he did with that tearful hug. I’ll never know for sure and now it doesn’t matter anymore.
    Oh hell, I thot I was done crying about all this………

    • Matt

      Hey Bill. Don’t worry about crying; parents who we love but that don’t get it just make us sad.

      My dad is old school too. He does not and probably never will understand that I am his son, not his daughter, so he has lost both a shadow of what he never had and the child standing right in front of him. He is brilliant and sensitive in a way that few people are, but it’s just a block for him. He always wanted a daughter; he chose my birth name; he wants to know me better at the end of his life but can’t understand why I am reticent. It is extremely sad, and something that I do not know how to reconcile in this life.

      Just don’t worry, okay? You love your family. That’s awesome. Cry all you want.

      • Bill Steffenhagen

        I’m not sure I love them and I know I don’t like them much. Years ago I told them they had to take me as I am, or not. They chose not which included a much loved partner I had at the time and I credit them, in part, for the loss of that 8 year relationship because he never felt accepted. My sister tries still to be the dutiful loving “Christian” toward me but I can’t be comfortable with her when she feels so strongly and, I argue, deliberately ignorantly against an integral part of who I am. Love the sinner, hate the sin. I can’t accept that and I can’t respect them.

        I was reticent with my dad too. I knew finally that it was up to me to bridge the gap but my truth was that I just didn’t care anymore. There never was a bond and it was too late. He was raised from staid old school Germans that didn’t show emotions….until mom’s funeral, and he didn’t know how. I didn’t know how either and just didn’t care enuf finally. Maybe that’s what has happened to you? And frankly, I was afraid of it. Why is a mystery to me still but I don’t analyze it anymore. I grew up fearing him tho he never laid a hand on any of us. There were other behavioral reasons on his part plus the fact that I never knew Love from him, in the way a child understands love. THAT unnecessarily tragic reality I think, is what I cried about. His loss, their loss, my loss……so much loss……..all over ignorance they adamantly refused to address. I care about the loss, not them, which is the greatest loss ultimately.
        Not crying now, just shaking my head at the whole fucking mess. Thank you, Matt. I hope you find a way. It won’t be easy because you will probably have to break the dam by broaching the subject. There’s genuine risk. BTW, I have a dear friend named Matthew. In prison now for alcohol abuse, 6 DUI’s. in divorce process, beautiful 7yo son he’s desperate to not lose, repressed anger and abandonment issues that I suspect stem from his own parental divorce and estrangement. I have become his only trusted friend and I help him financially and pay for his phone privileges. We talk almost every day. I love him and tell him so every time. There’s so much pain in this world.
        By the way, I deliberately broke the emotional desert cycle with my sons. They grew up with hugs and kisses and backrubs and tucking in at nite and camping trips…. They’re in their 40′s now. The hugs have survived and they’re ok with my life….tho they wish I hadn’t been so distracted and was more successful. Oh well.

        • Matt

          It was a little different for me growing up as a daughter. My dad was extremely angry all the time, but did not know how to express it. Instead he fought, and though he also never struck me I was still very much afraid of him. He also ignores any requests I make to tone down his behavior. So any loving gestures he displays simply make me nervous.

          It’s not that I do not care, it’s that I have so many other things on my plate right now. I will make time if the other person proves themselves trustworthy, but he has not. It’s that simple. And yes, the loss matters more than the person themselves. That’s what really gets you.

          Regardless, I’m so glad to hear that you broke your own cycle with your sons. I’m sure that kind of care shows through every single day of their lives.

          • Bill Steffenhagen

            Sounds like a difficult situation. You sound very caring also. I suspect you would be nice to know. As to your relationship with your dad; I’m curious about your age.

          • Matt

            I am just about to turn 22. Thank you for the compliment.

          • Jill

            Matt’s brilliant.

    • I-confess.net

      It is just as hard to be a son, as it is to be a father. When Christ spoke of the needs of the tax collector (continual sinner) he understood that life is easier for some than others. And that the struggle (successful or otherwise) that some of us have in our life makes us more courageous, and yet more needy than someone who appears to have it easier. Perhaps we examine our lives more, examine ourselves more, and try harder to marry all that we are to all that we are told and all that we believe. Those who have it easy, might not have it easy, perhaps they aren’t putting in the work that they need to and are just faking it. Who knows?

      Either way, your comment was compelling and I wish you the best.

    • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

      Bill -
      Thank you for sharing this. It really resonated with me.
      My best to you.

    • Jill

      Bill, only the things that truly matter in life will always matter. These things always matter. Your compassion surpassing your very valid anger is a powerful testament to who you are– you have anger at the injustices, but you are made from love, built of it.

      That’s a strength that you obviously rely on your whole life. A life informed by love, in the final analysis, is a life well-lived. Peace to you, my friend.

      • Bill Steffenhagen

        Thanks Jill. Your words feel good. I remember you from John’s former blog. God bless you.

  • Dedangelo

    I think there’s a huge difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Further, I think the two are often confused, so people remain stuck. Forgiveness is getting to a pace where the injury no longer seriously impedes your life. Reconciliation occurs when the offender takes responsibility for his/her actions and works to mend the relationship.

  • I-confess.net

    I couldn’t disagree with a good portion of the article more. I have no credentials or experience to distinguish me. Save for pain and love. Forgiveness is the continuation of love when evil begs it to cease. Evil and all of man’s mistakes must be forgiven. If we must try to emulate our god, our prophets, our heroes, then we must forgive and hopefully we will be forgiven. We don’t get the luxury of picking what we forgive when we become victims. Our circumstances pick us and we must overcome them. As a victim it is only with forgiveness that we win.

  • Shade Ardent

    i read this over and over again, trying to piece together what is bothering me.

    i think it starts with this:

    i don’t know if you knew at the time that your friend was molesting his daughter or later. if you knew, did you report it? if you knew later, did you turn him in then?

    these questions bother me on many levels.

    while your words are reassuring, that forgiveness might not be what i’ve been forced to believe, in a different world, i was that child. alone, known to be abused, alone.

    the idea of moving from a victim to a bystander also bothers me because it feels depersonalizing. if i move from being actively involved, having the harm done to me, to being a bystander, what responsibility is there on the part of the abuser?

    it seems to remove responsibility. because if it’s random collateral damage, then no one is at fault. just don’t let the person back into your life and it’s ok.

    i am glad to hear something truly kind and heartfelt on what might be a different way to heal, and i’ve thought about it all day long.

    i’m left with this, maybe my anger as it grows while i deal with my history is a form of forgiving. maybe anger is a form of moving past-through-ahead of what happened.

    instead of ignoring it, instead of forcing repair on something, instead of asking it to hide, i will let out the darkness. i will put it in the open, i will name it. and i will not forget it.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      Of course I did not know at the time. (Hence the “at the time.” But I’ll go change that to, “I later learned,” for even more emphasis. Thanks. I’m afraid you lost me a bit there on the “victim to observer” idea.)

      • Shade Ardent

        “And no sane person can understand evil. That’s what evil is: it’s the thing that can’t be understood. Evil lives just beyond the realm of human comprehension.”

        according to what you wrote, i should be insane and an abuser. i should have long since given in. i know evil, i have seen evil, i have been with evil. i never meant to, but i know evil.

        i was called evil too.

        if no one sane can ever understand it, then i’m already gone. because i do understand what evil is, and that it acts. it acts best when people become bystanders to the world. when someone looks across and decides that they have forgiven by walking away.

        they equate the horror of knowing something bad is or was happening with being there, having it visited on the skin and soul of a child.

        bystanders are remote, they are dispassionate. they don’t care, and call it forgiveness.

        if looking and feeling sad that something is happening is now the same as being the child in that situation, then there’s no reason to forgive. all sin, all hurt, all evil is equal.

        instead of trying to understand the evil that happened, instead of even being able to say i know evil, i’m supposed to remove myself from the situation. the memories should fade, i should leave them be, or run the risk of knowing more evil. and if i know evil, i’m going to end up being an abuser too.

        so i have to become a bystander. as a bystander, i can remove myself from the thing, and act as though it wasn’t really real. if it’s bad luck that placed me there, i can leave. the memories, the flashbacks, the scars, all of it is now my choice.

        but i tried that. i tried walking away. i tried forgiving in this manner. i tried to be a bystander, remote, impersonal. but the nights ate my dreams, and i trusted no one. there was no safety, because nothing was real. by ignoring the evil i knew, by rejecting the reality of what happened, nothing became solid except the fears and memories.

        evil became more real because i could not face it.

        this is not forgiveness, this is obviation of truth. it is neglecting duty and love.

        i want no part of it.

        • Alliecat04

          I hope you have someone to help you carry the burden that’s been placed on you. It’s very hard to deal with so much pain without counseling.

          I know John’s intention was never to make someone who is a victim of abuse feel bad about their response to abuse. Reading your posts back and forth I feel as if you two aren’t speaking the same language.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

          There is one more option for you. Be open about what happened, share your pain, your frustration, your sorrow. Use it as a doorway to allow yourself to examine things using every emotion that is related. It helped me to simply trust in the woman I was, to have what it took to strip away the shadows, when I started that journey myself.

          Share with others, and you may discover that others too are struggling with similar things, and the knowing that you are not alone, they are not alone may help give you solace, and even a purpose.

          Just because someone has faced evil, been harmed by those doing evil things does in no way mean that any of us will ourselves become that which we hate and fear so deeply. We know its horrible, we recoil from the knowledge of it, and that is what keeps us from becoming evil ourselves.

          Forgiveness will come when it comes, if it comes at all. But first you must be able to heal. For those that want to keep you “there” where you once were, the person being “evilled” upon, the ones that demand that you become evil as well. feel free to say loudly, repeatedly and emphatically “FUCK YOU!” That is what you want no part of, and that is what they cannot force upon you.

          For the record, in my case, the forgivenesses are still pending, and I am at peace.with that realization.

  • Mel

    Thank you for this post. A wise woman once told me that forgiveness is choosing to free yourself from the anger/pain that another person has caused you.

    A wise priest tells our congregation regularly that God wants us to forgive so that we are not trapped in bitterness. Anger is a healthy and natural reaction to being hurt; letting the anger fester into bitterness hurts you. Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. Forgiving allows you to separate yourself from the person who hurt you; forgetting makes you a target for future abuse.

  • Randy Creath

    Good work, John! All of us struggle with these issues in as many ways as there are individuals. I’m glad to hear of your manner of coping!

  • ErikaBeseda

    this.

  • Daniel Lee Fee

    Thanks lots JS, as I read you, you are moving me in the ‘right direction.’ Three years ago I began to have intense, recurring flashbacks from nine years of being involved with exgay church life, family, and counseling (about 50 years ago when I was ages 13 to 22). Needless to say, though it does actually bear saying? The whole business was a terrible, total disaster. I just knew I had to walk away from it all, that sifting through the wreckage was an exhausting sorrow that probably would gain me nothing. So I walked away, studied every empirical and/or alternative positive angle on being a gay man, and thought I had done what I could to move on.

    Now, thanks to the intrusive re-education I have gotten and am still getting from those flashbacks, I see that in deep core ways I have not moved on. I still embody a kind of split off Abomination Boiler Room, deep inside, beyond and above and beneath all conscious ideas and conscious words. I’ve pretty much been given amazing life opportunities, just about all of which I could not sustain for any longer than the Abomination in Waiting deep core ended up allowing.

    I’m lucky as my senior health plan lets me have meds, individual talk therapy, and I even go to a mens’ group weekly for abuse survivors. I honestly would describe my nine years of exgay involvement as the most extended and extensive sexual violation I’ve ever suffered so far in life, and that means church plus family plus me ended up inadvertently being worse than other dire things like emotional incest, an S&M like mentoring by an older bully in my farm town neighborhood, and several varied (but thankfully limited) occasions of rape by one to three guys, off and on over the years.

    The stuck point that slowly seems to be emerging is: I somehow became the lead Perpetrator in my own stress injury, and I so far cannot quite stop perpetrating. I dearly hope and pray that nobody else ever has to discover he or she has been affected for decades of adult life, as I did.

    I guess I’m just whispering a request to you that you and your wife keep me in your prayers …. if you ever feel so inclined. I really don’t have the kind of connection with God in any form that I used to have …. the exgay stuff violated me sexually, and at an excruciating spiritual core, too. Thanks for working through these various blog topics. Thanks for being such a consistent Ally of us queer folks. Thanks lots. drdanfee

  • Robert McHenry

    Thanks

  • karenisaacson

    There’s a lot of relief in reading this; my husband (who I’m divorcing) emotionally abused me for over 15 years and now I can see why forgiveness hasn’t been bubbling up and you know, that’s ok.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ allegro63

      It is ok. If and when you decide to forgive, it will and should be when you are ready, and for the reasons that are healthy and healing to you. That will take some time, and some space.

  • Mary12

    I was raped nearly 20 years ago and in recent years I forgave the act and the aftermath. I look upon the existence of my perpetrator as that of a chair, or a crumbled sidewalk; It’s inanimate, so is he. I can’t extend something to someone who hasn’t requested nor will be awaiting receipt of my forgiveness. But I forgave nonetheless.
    When we’re touched by evil, we decide how we let it affect us. It can become part of us, infiltrate our lives, our souls like a sickness. Or we can shine in opposition to its darkness. We can extend grace & compassion & love in a way we never knew we could be capable of. Some people just don’t know they have a choice… Just like they didn’t have a choice in what happened to them, they don’t know they have a choice in what happens after. I was lucky & I figured it out pretty early on. Forgiveness in my mind is just a bonus. An added perk to not succumbing to something that tried to suck me up and take me with it.

  • dd80

    Thank … thank you. Thank you so much. I stumbled across your blog after an angry Google search and found this after clicking around a bit. Something that I needed so dearly. God bless you, John.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      thanks for this, dd80; it means a lot to me.

      • Bones

        John, congrats on this site. You’ve got a wonderful ministry. Keep up the great work. You make me want to start calling myself a Christian again.


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