The final step of forgiving is actually to forgive. Simple as that. Or is it that simple? Well, yes and no. It is a simple act, although in some cases it can take years to actually unfold when the hurt is very deep. The thing about forgiveness is that I really don’t think any of us really forgives another; God forgives the person through us. That is to say, forgiveness is an act of grace from God. The first three steps of telling the story, owning the hurt and letting go can be done by us and need to be done by us. Although letting go is not forgiveness in itself, it opens the way for forgiveness to happen. We open the door for the Paraclete, the Divine Advocate for the Defense, to come in.
I have to admit to feeling a bit embarrassed about writing on this important topic. That is because, so far in my life anyway, I have had quite a lot less to forgive than many people I know and know about. When I think of the enormous injuries, such as childhood abuse some have suffered and forgiven, I ask myself: Who am I to tell others how to forgive? The answer to that question is to say that I am Andrew Marr and I have had to do some forgiving. In any case, like everybody else, I have learned much from those who have forgiven monstrous hurts.
Although telling stories is helpful, I do not feel I can tell my own stories of forgiveness except abstractly since other people are involved. Two instances stand out for me. In one case, when a person penitently admitted to sustained acts of deceit, I felt forgiveness move through me on the spot. This did not eliminate the hurt over the situation but it did free me from being caught in the hurt and allowed me to move on. The second instance was a case where it took many years to become aware of how a person was hurting me, albeit without intending it or, as far as I could tell, realizing it, in spite of my frank naming the hurt to this person. At the time that I write this, I have not experienced the same forgiveness work through me as a one-shot deal, but I feel the process working gradually through me.
I find forgiveness to be more difficult when it involves the wrongs done to other people, whether people I know or people I have never seen but who are being hurt and killed through economic injustice and war. It occurs to me that a certain helplessness adds to this difficulty. If a wrong is done to another, it is hard to forgive on behalf of that person. The thing is, God forgives the wrongs done to other people all the time. At the same time, God suffers with all who are suffering these grievous wrongs and is also suffering along with the ruin of the perpetrators themselves. Forgiveness is costly in such cases and as we participate in God’s forgiveness of others who harm other people, we learn in our own hearts how costly forgiveness is.
As difficult as forgiveness is when it comes to trauma, I find forgiveness most difficult with the small things on a day-to-basis. When an emergency comes along, we respond quickly and generously, even when it takes much time and resources, but giving up small bits of time for the benefit of other people is difficult, sometimes excruciatingly so. It’s the same thing with forgiveness. When we get nickel-and-dimed by petty offenses day in and day out, we get fed up with people and lash out at them. When we suffer these little stabs, they are so immediate, compared to the long-term sufferings we endure, that they seem a lot bigger than they are. Here is where we need a habit of letting go that is rooted in humility. St. Paul said that he died daily. Part of that is losing daily, which is what letting go amounts to when these petty offenses come. It’s when we receive a barbed comment on the spot that we want to come back with a retort that gives us the satisfaction of revenge. Swallowing our words in these situations is difficult. And yet, learning to forgive in these small situations strengthens us to forgive the longstanding hurts that we suffer. Letting go is letting go, whether the matter is big or small. In God’s sight, they are all the same size.