Roughly ten years and several eons ago, I read in Matthew that we are required to forgive “even seven times seventy times”. Some quick mental arithmetic and I realised that meant we’re expected to forgive four hundred and ninety times. That’s a sizable number, especially when it’s relating to someone who has hurt or offended you. At the time, I was trying to come to terms with abandonment by not one but three fathers in my life, and the effort was exactly like trying to swim butterfly stroke through custard. In short, it wasn’t pretty, it was messy, and obviously wasn’t working.
Then, I read the following from Jeanne Ray’s ‘Eat Cake’:
The truth of the matter is that I didn’t bear my father any particular ill will. I had for a short time when I was young. I thought he was a terrible man. But as I got older it occurred to me that just because someone isn’t cut out to be a husband or a father doesn’t make him terrible, only terribly disappointing. (p. 54)
In the fey, curious workings of my brain, I could somehow accept the grief and hurt my fathers had caused by changing my definitions. My Dads weren’t terrible, just (simply, awfully) terribly disappointing. It was much easier to forgive them for being so disappointing and then step over the hurdle which had (just one page earlier) seemed as impossible and painful as burrowing through the planet using my head as a shovel. Suddenly I could – and did – forgive them, and moved on.
Fast forward ten years. Ten years of life, and friends, and no-longer-friends, family spats and silences, ten years of working out just what my mother-in-law meant during the last conversation, practicing and failing patience, and thinking that forgiving people was mostly a matter of rearranging words to make the taste less awful. Ha! I thought. This forgiveness thing is EASY!
Then my husband left my sons and me. For the first counsellor in my sons’ Primary.
For the first few months, I was haemorrhaging pain and bewilderment too badly to think about anything besides breathing, making sure my boys ate vegetables each day, and idly wondering if my pillows would ever be dry again. But the time came when I realised I had to address my feelings towards my ex-husband. My anger, confusion and hurt because of what he had done were starting to deform my life, and who I was. So I added to my prayers “Please help me know how to even BEGIN to forgive him.”
Straight back came “Pray for those who despitefully use you”. I nearly choked. The Lord wanted me to PRAY for the jerk? It took me over an hour to finish that prayer. I spent most of it stalking around my lounge room, in the dark, first feeling abandoned even in my prayers, then overwhelmed with such an unfair answer. Finally, I knelt back beside my bed, bowed my head, and lay my sincere, humbling prayer at the feet of Almighty God.
“Please don’t let him die from syphilis. Syphilis is a horrible way to die.” I can see the funny side of it now. Anyone who I’ve spoken to about it either gapes at me like a drowning fish or needs a toilet break from laughing so hard, but I sincerely, genuinely meant it. The words weren’t written in bile, snark didn’t curl the edges, there was no bitter postscript added to the end. It was the only thing I could honesty pray for him.
The Lord knew it, and accepted my prayer.
I’ve been helped beyond remembrance in trying to forgive my ex. Friends have shared scriptures, talks, personal experiences and their own fantasies should forgiveness ever involve a Tazer, a punch to the mouth and/or fire ants. I have been both gently and sternly directed in what I should do, read, think, say and pray for in letting go of my hurt, pain and anger.
I’ve had to forgive myself. I’ve had to forgive others for insensitive comments and actions, and the parts they have played in the death of my marriage. But one thing I haven’t had to do is forgive my ex-husband for his infidelity. I thought in the beginning that forgiveness was identifying every single scratch, pain, itch, gaping head wound or death rattle and graciously give the benediction “I forgive you” for each one. I couldn’t do that. Not when the damage was so devastating, and constant. Instead, like finding one thing to pray for, I found one thing to forgive. I don’t have to forgive my ex-husband’s actions individually, each studied in microscopic detail, because I forgive him for being an idiot.
I have forgiven him that, and he has given me the opportunity to practice forgiveness over and over again for his idiocy, repeatedly demonstrated in his dealings with myself, my sons, and even the Lord. But being able to lump his actions under “being an idiot” is a sweet, cool salve on the sometimes raging fever of my fury and pained disappointment. Because somehow, being able to forgive him for the summarising “idiocy” has let the details slowly fade from sight, from feeling, and even (almost impossibly) from memory. Isn’t that what forgiveness is, that sins will be remembered no more? I once understood that to apply strictly to my sins, but I am now wordlessly thankful to know the blessing of having others’ sins fade from my own memory.
My feelings towards my ex don’t extend so far as to give thanks for his actions, but I am grateful for the principles and love God has taught me as a result. Without those, I would never have found a connection between forgiveness and syphilis, idiocy and forgetting, or known the immense beauty and benediction of forgiveness, in so many of its forms.
Have you had a moment or experience which has made forgiveness easier? How do you forgive others? Have you ever prayed for something totally not “the norm”?