When I hear this word, I automatically start singing the lyrics to “Heart of the Matter” by Don Henley in my head. Hashtag eighties baby, I guess.
The truth is that “forgiveness” is a word we all know, but rarely recognize what it looks like or how to define it. We have long standing cultural mantras such as “forgive and forget”. Maybe you are a better person than I am, but that has never worked for me. I can learn to forgive, but rarely do I ever forget the times I have been hurt so deeply that the process of forgiveness was required.
That’s right. Forgiveness is a PROCESS. It isn’t a one-time gig. It isn’t something we can do in a moment or even an hour. True forgiveness is something that happens slowly, over time, and usually over some very messy and awkward moments and conversations.
Last night, I sat in a large circle with some of the bravest women I have ever met. These women were all very different, but they had one thing in common. They were incarcerated. Old and young, black and white and Hispanic or Latina, rich and poor, and from all different faith backgrounds. Over the course of 90 minutes, where they came from didn’t matter as much as what they were there to do: Forgive themselves.
We just wrapped up an eight-week version of reGROUP, Summit Church’s healing and recovery journey, last night in the jail and it was one of the most transformative moments of my life. I sat in a circle with 18 women who chose to be in that room, at that time, for the purpose of seeking healing in their own stories. Before they received their certificates of participation and a small token of our gratitude for their courage, they went around and read letters they had written from themselves to themselves. The purpose of the letter was to help them start the journey of forgiving themselves for what they had done, said, seen, and experienced in the height of their addictions.
This is a really big deal. I don’t know about you, but it is much easier for me to believe that others, or even God, have forgiven me when I have fallen short of being a kind, compassionate, or even sane person. I have a much harder time forgiving myself for something as small as a blog spelling error or as large as a blatant lie which has hurt someone. If you have ever battled anxiety, depression, self harm, addictive habits or behaviors, abuse, or any other form of brokenness, you may get what I am saying.
Forgiveness is a long, messy process but it has to start somewhere. Last night I had the incredible privilege of witnessing a room full of women start the process of forgiving themselves after years of self hatred and self abuse. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, pure and overwhelming. I will cherish that circle for the rest of my life, and continue to challenge myself to be as brave as the women who just spent eight weeks teaching me with their own life stories.