Forgiving when you just can't forgive

I want to offer two thoughts on the forgiveness of enemies. Both have been of use to me. The first is a prayer that I use myself, and have offered to others, when there is difficulty forgiving someone. It runs thus:

O Lord, on the day of judgment, do not hold this sin against them on my account.

It is a prayer of “postponed” forgiveness – something that feels emotionally safe and which places vengeance where it belongs – with God. On the day of judgment, we ourselves will want forgiveness for all we have done. As we are taught in Christ’s parables, we should do the same. I have had any number of conversations with people who have found this approach to be of use when everything felt “stuck,” and immoveable.

The second thought is more immediate to the heart.

It is very difficult to do a “negative” thing. It is why when we struggle to quit an addiction, we find it difficult. It creates an absence that longs to be filled. The same is true of intrusive thoughts. Trying “not to think” something is nearly impossible. Again, it creates a negative which begs to be filled and the thought returns again and again. So, my second thought on forgiveness involves positive action. Positive action has life, beauty, truth, and being. It is strong and brings the might of reality to bear on the unreality of darkness.

In the struggle to forgive, if possible, find something (anything) from the offending person for which you can give thanks. It is to go, like their guardian angel, looking for an onion, even a miserable, rotten onion given as a small act of kindness. It is the cup of cold water in their life. It does not matter how small the matter was, how insignificant or trivial. It takes something from their life for which you can make the offering of thanksgiving to God. This doesn’t entail speaking to them, or renewing an unsafe relationship. It entails the difficulty of our own inner torment created by the pain of what remains unforgiven.

Finding such an action we pray: O God, I give you thanks for the kindness I received.

My experience with this approach is that it can make a profound change in the heart. Something softens that before was hard. While even this is not always possible, it is an effective balm of the soul when it is. We too often underestimate the power in very small things. That power, I believe, is the work of grace.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Forgiveness - Give an Enemy a Cup of Cold Water - Glory to God for All Things

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