The Heart of the Matter

I was thinking about this:

The fullness of healing, of course, can only come when the victims finally feel capable of saying “I forgive you…” That moment -which cannot be compelled and does not mean forgetting- is the moment when a victim takes his life back. When a victim says, “I forgive you,” she confers her own power over the entire situation, and controls it. It is transformative; it brings a victim into his or her Royal Priesthood.

Forgiveness, I have learned, is essential to healing; without it one is held in a stagnant pool of misery. Forgiving is how you reclaim yourself and move on. Until you can forgive, the incident -whatever it is- owns you.

And it made me think of this:

There are people in your life who’ve come and gone
They let you down and hurt your pride
Better put it all behind you; life goes on
You keep carrin’ that anger, it’ll eat you inside

I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it’s about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore

It cannot be compelled, but perhaps contrition speeds it.*

And it heals.

*Edited for clarity

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Jeff

    Anchoress I have question on that last line. Is the author saying that forgiveness doesn’t come about, or can’t, until the opposite party is contrite? This has always confused me. Do you forgive others who are not sorry? In confession God only forgives us if we are sorry. I’m not sure what the answer is.

    [Hmmm...good question. I need to rethink/rewrite that. That's what happens when I work too fast! :-) -admin]

  • cathyf

    Jeff, I think it’s the opposite. I’ve always interpreted the song like this. Everyone knows that when you have two people who love each other they forgive each other out of that love. But then (what the song is talking about) there is the case where the other person doesn’t love you, and then you must forgive him/her because you and God love each other.

  • Alice

    I think ‘letting it go’ is adequate for healing. Maybe for some that is the same thing as forgiving.

    [Actually, there is something to be said for that, sometimes. Marcus Aurelius addressed the issue of training the mind: "Take away the complaint, 'I have been harmed,' and the harm is taken away." If it works, it's great. But I don't know if it always does. -admin]

  • Alice

    My comment above is not meant to address issues like child molesting, with which I have no experience. (I saw this ‘Heart of the Matter’ before the post just below it.)

  • Julia

    Some of these folks have PTSD so it’s not they can just let things go, even if they want to. Things are fried into their brain now. Their responses to things are visceral and not willed.

    They tried by stuffing it inside and it just doesn’t go away – I’m sure they really wish it would.

    You need to talk to an expert about this and see what that person thinks about a PTSD afflicted person being able to let it go or forgive.

    [I hope you'll read the comments in the post below. Having been diagnosed w/ PTSD at one time, I can attest that forgiveness is possible. It's not always expedient, though. God's grace helps. -admin]

  • F

    That is the crucial moment, Anchoress. That moment you described in paragraph one. Truly. Just reading it reminded me of when I reached that moment of freedom and power. Thanks for putting it so succinctly. I never could have. And that moment is a grace, an unmerited gift. It took me decades to reach it. But now I actually feel sorry for the perp and have prayed for his soul. I also pray for the protection of children rather fiercely and will til I die.

  • Gretchen

    Wow. On the same wavelength with you, Anchoress. Posted this yesterday. Eerie.

  • Jeff

    I think Julia is correct. Sometimes it’s just not possible to forget when there has been trauma, which makes it ten times as hard to forgive. I think psychiatrists have referred to “flashbulb” memories being implanted in the brain when there is true trauma in our lives, and “fried” is another way to put it. In those cases I think volitional forgiveness is much more difficult because of the brain’s constant re-presentation of the event at unexpected times over many years. I’m not sure what the answer is there except to “carry your cross” and hope that God will restore you and bring some unknown good out of the event. But that aside, I still don’t know whether you forgive the person who steals your car, for example, if when arrested they are laughing about it. Just an example.

  • Myssi

    I don’t forgive people because I love them. I forgive people because I love God and God loves them. Also, because if I’m going to pray “forgive us our trepasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”, I have to forgive the way I want to be forgiven.

    I am not capable of forgetting the wrong against me, but I am capable of choosing to think of it as taken to the cross and defeated there – just like my own sin was taken to the cross and defeated. The chastisement of my peace was on Christ; I would be wronging Him not to claim that peace by forgiving what He died to forgive.

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  • Bender

    The Cross is not something that is supposed to be a burden, something that you only begrudgingly carry out of duty. It is supposed to be something that you willingly take up out of love.

  • Jeff

    Jesus said “my burden is light” so it is a burden to some extent.

    My question still is really whether we forgive people who are not sorry for having done something wrong to us, when God will not forgive us unless we are sorry. You can do the associative approach, but I just am not sure what the correct answer is to this. I mean, will God forgive me just because he loves me, even if I don’t ask for it.

  • Bender

    In confession God only forgives us if we are sorry. . . . God will not forgive us unless we are sorry

    This is not entirely accurate. God offers forgiveness even before one is sorry; He is already standing there ready to forgive even when one is still in the midst of sin.

    BUT we are not forgiven until we are sorry. That is not because God refuses us forgiveness, but because we refuse to be forgiven.

    Forgiveness is not merely an action by God. It is a transaction, a two-way street. In confession, we are forgiven only if we accept His forgiveness, and such acceptance necessarily entails contrition. Again, it is not the case that God will not forgive, it is, rather, the case that we cannot be forgiven until we are sorry because forgiveness is not complete until it is accepted by us.

    But even when one is sorry, that in and of itself will not suffice as acceptance. One must at least implicitly acknowledge that forgiveness once it has been extended and received.

    will God forgive me just because he loves me, even if I don’t ask for it

    Yes, but it will do you little good unless and until you accept it.

    To state all of this another way — forgiveness and salvation are gifts. And like any other gift, they must be received and accepted before they are completed gifts. If you take a gift and put it in the closet unopened, it is as if you never received it in the first place, but that does not mean that it was never sent. It was sent. And God does send plenty of gifts all the time that are left unopened or unused or even sometimes returned to sender. He gives these gifts, including the gift of forgiveness, freely and gratiutously. We do not earn it by being sorry, we do not merit it by our contrition — it is all gift.

    But unless we accept it, it is of no effect.

    Jesus asked the Father to forgive Caiphas and the others even though they never asked for it. So too should we forgive others who have never asked for it. So too should we love our enemies, even though they hate us back.

  • Bender’s Cheerleader

    My turn! :)

    God always knows the state of our hearts so He always knows when we are struggling to forgive – He will give us the graces necessary to forgive when we are ready to let go of whatever hurt us.

    I believe it is sufficient to forgive in our hearts whether or not we ever tell the one who wronged us. Some people don’t want, or accept, forgiveness because they truly don’t see that they’ve hurt another – and in fact they may even be hostile to the suggestion of someone forgiving them. The greater good would seem to be obtaining the peace within ourselves that forgiving a wrong brings us, as opposed to ‘inflicting’ forgiveness on someone.

    Of course, if someone asks you for forgiveness, then that is a whole ‘nother story.

    I guess I’m trying to say that we should always ask God to forgive those who wrong us, and then ask for the graces necessary to forgive them as well.

  • Julia

    OK God offers forgiveness and we have to make the move to take it.

    What does it mean to offer forgiveness to somebody who didn’t ask for it and doesn’t even know you made the offer?

    What if you just can’t and don’t want to ever be alone around the person who harmed you again; How do you offer forgiveness then? What if it’s best the rest of the world doesn’t ever know about what happened? What if the person denies it ever happened and offering forgiveness makes things worse?

    Ditto about the DX. Being startled in movies and recurrent images never go away.

  • Bender’s Cheerleader

    Julia- some of your questions and points are addressed, I think, by my comment.

    Unless someone approaches you for forgiveness- and even then it needn’t be public- just quietly forgiving is more for our own benefit and peace of mind than for the one who wronged us. If you ask God to forgive someone, then it is out of your hands, so to speak, and He will deal with that person as He sees fit.

    Equally important as forgiving is asking forgiveness when we hurt someone else. But that takes a whole lot of humility.

  • Jeff

    Ok, in the words of Chevy Chase, good talk. I think I’m making progress.

  • Kris, in New England

    I also think that in order to forgive someone else, you have to forgive yourself first.

    I’m dealing with this right now with a very unpleasant and unexpected family situation. I am nearly at the point where I can forgive myself for the circumstances I allowed to happen that ultimately let my family think I was just an emotional toy to them.

    Can I forgive them? I really don’t know. I do know that they see nothing wrong with their behavior so forgiveness will likely not ever be requested by them. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to forgive them in my own heart.

    Could take a long time.

    This post really is timely for me and gives me much to contemplate. Thank you Anchoress.

  • Bender

    Whether it is easier to forgive the big things or the little things, this much is clear, sometimes it is fairly easy for us to forgive — but sometimes it is, for all practical purposes, impossible for us to forgive. Some hurts are just too large, some injuries are just too great (or sometimes we allow ourselves to get so self-centered that even little injuries seem great) that it is impossible for us to forgive.

    Or, perhaps I should say that it is impossible for us to forgive.

    But, as we shall soon see at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit allows us to do the impossible. Not only did it allow the weak and terrified Apostles to come out of hiding and bravely and loudly proclaim the Gospel, not only does it allow the persecuted, such as Perpetua and Felicity, to gladly endure the suffering of martyrdom — something that otherwise would be unthinkable and not humanly possible — the grace of the Holy Spirit allows us to what we otherwise could not humanly do, including that which is perhaps the most impossible thing to do at times — forgive the unforgiveable, forgive the debt that can never be paid.

    One of the best examples of this is described in Left to Tell, by Immaculee Ilibagiza, who survived the Rwandan genocide while the rest of her family was hacked to death, along with hundreds of thousands of others. Eventually, the man who had led the group that killed members of her family was caught, and the jailer who held him allowed Immaculee to confront him (and take her revenge).

    But, as the murderer knelt before her, she “wept at the sight of his suffering. Felicien had let the devil enter his heart, and the evil had ruined his life like cancer in his soul. He was now the victim of his victims, destined to live in torment and regret. I was overwhelmed with pity for the man.” And when the jailer shouted at the killer and hauled him to his feet, Immaculee touched his hands lightly and quietly said, “I forgive you.”

    The jailer was stunned and furious. After the killer was dragged out, he said, “What was that all about, Immaculee? That was the man who murdered your family. I brought him to you to question . . . to spit on if you wanted to. But you forgave him! How could you do that? Why did you forgive him?” In her book she says that she “answered him with the truth: ‘Forgiveness is all I have to offer.’”

    But the forgiveness she gave did not come entirely from Immaculee. As she says in the Introduction, her book “is the story of how I discovered God during one of history’s bloodiest holocausts.” And this discovery, this lesson, forever changed her. “It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me — and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family.”

    Forgiveness is sometimes easy for us, but sometimes it is impossible for us. Some crimes are simply too great. But God gives us the power to do the impossible.

    Reposted from here.

  • Bender

    Hmm. That first link went through, but not the second. Let’s try again –

    The above was reposted from here.

    [At first I thought - how astonishing that you remember things I've written, when I don't even remember writing them. Then I realized I didn't remember it because I hadn't written it - you had, in the comments! LOL -admin]

  • Bender

    Immaculee Ilibagiza taught me a lot about forgiveness.

    So did this speaker that I’ve seen at both Theology on Tap (podcast here) and a recent Men’s Conference (podcast here) for the Diocese of Arlington — Guy Grutters, retired Captain in the Air Force, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years. In his talks, he tells of how he too came to love and forgive his captors who had beaten and mistreated and occasionally tortured him.

    If you have the chance, go see him when he is in the area, or go listen to the podcasts of his talks.

  • cathyf

    One of the partners at my first job was paralyzed in a swimming accident about 18 years ago. I have not seen him (I had departed the firm before then) but my former boss told me the story. He dove into the pool, and as he came up, he realized 3 things: First, he was face down in the water and could not move. Second, no one else realized that anything was wrong, so they weren’t going to be jumping in to rescue him anytime soon. Third, if he couldn’t figure out how to roll over real soon, he would die.

    Bender is absolutely right (as usual :-) ) that forgiveness is sometimes simply impossible. But, like my paralyzed friend face down in the water, “impossible” can be a completely irrelevant excuse. Sometimes you must do the impossible to survive.

    We often say that abuse is about power and control, but I think that’s not quite it — I think abuse is about boundaries. Because it’s usually not that the abuser wants power or control over the victim, but that the abuser wants power and control and is indifferent to whether what he wants power/control over is inside the victim’s boundaries. (I think there is a legal term “depraved indifference” — or at least they use that term on crime shows.)

    When your boundaries have been violated, you need to reconstruct them. Like a levee breach — you sandbag the hole(s), you pump out the water, you replace the sandbags with a stronger, better-engineered wall, you bring in a dumpster to haul the flooded debris out of your house. There are lots of steps, and forgiveness has lots of steps. Lots of those steps involve forgiving yourself. Forgiving yourself for not being a cartoon superhero with magical powers that could have fought off the injury. Forgiving yourself for not thinking of the completely practical thing that you could have done that might have worked. Forgiving yourself for not doing something when you were paralyzed by confusion, fear and despair.

    Forgiving the person who has injured you is yet another separate step, and it can be completed as a self-contained selfish act. It’s like pumping the flood waters back over the wall back into the river — the river doesn’t care, and you don’t need the river to care.

    Sometimes forgiveness is very healing. Other times, though, it’s like the guy paralyzed in the swimming accident. Yes, he figured out how to roll over, and yes, he survived. But he’s still paralyzed. When you forgive someone, the only person that you have any power and the control over is yourself. Whether the person who harmed you is contrite, or not changed at all, can be quite properly none of your concern. Because you’ve got him back in his proper place, which is outside your boundaries.

  • Jeff

    A priest I heard once said that we must forgive ourselves for being unable to forgive. That was very helpful in some ways.