Forgiveness is fundamentally about freedom. It is the core of freedom for the future. Those who move forward into the future and find a new home in the emerging world are people who have experienced forgiveness. Forgiveness frees us from the power of the past to control our future.
Frees us from being locked into the past
Free to have the past available to us so that it helps us navigate the future.
Pain of loss or trauma often locks us into itself--into the event or series of events--and we are blinded to the full memory of what the person or the life we had was really about. Without fullness of understanding, those events often distort our understanding of the present and the future.
Frees us from the distortion that comes from intense pleasure of what has been lost. High School football star--often relives the glory days--everything was great--full of energy and life--hope and power--praise and achievement--nothing can ever match it. Pleasure can lock us into the past and we are not free to move into the future with the same hope and energy.
Free from the anger at the past for not being want we wanted it to be--mostly for not being permanent. If it was important in defining who we knew ourselves to be, when it is gone, we have to reinvent ourselves--redefine ourselves without that other reality--a minister who is loved and hated--both people have to forgive him for leaving because both the lovers and the haters now have to define themselves in relationship to something else--maybe each other. Forgiveness frees us to that task. Frees us to discover a fuller identity.
Free to redefine the relationships in the future. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting the past--to forget is considered dementia and we lose our identity. But forgiving helps us remember who we are--even as persons who have been hurt--to learn from who we have been in a effort to help us discover who we might yet be.
We forgive and are forgiven to be freed for a different future.
We long to be free for a new future.
But we fear freedom.
Freedom opens up more choices. But when we are not accustomed to choices, more choices often paralyzes us--choice anxiety.
Making choices is experienced differently according to the amount of resources we have to use in the choice.
Take money. If we have a million dollars it is probably isn’t as difficult to make a choice about which car to buy. We can choose and then, if we make a mistake, we have enough resources to lose some on the deal and pick a new one.
If on the other hand we make $50,000 per year, the choice of a car will be more difficult. We have less room to make a mistake. For if we choose the wrong car, having enough resources to replace it will be more difficult to come by.
It seems to me that this is what happens to us in this phase of reorientation in our lives. In earlier years, we always thought we had time to make up for mistake we might have made when making our choices. But at our age, we know that we have limited time--and we don’t want to make a wrong choice --so choice anxiety regarding how we are going to spend our limited resources of time might be more paralyzing.
One of the key problems with freedom is that we are given more choices but are unclear how to make responsible decisions about those choices
Freedom is about responsibility--the ability to respond.
Freedom is about picking something or someone new to whom to be responsible. We find some other value or ideal or person or job to respond to.
If we were partnered, that primary partner gave structure to our responses. We knew that when it came to the commitment of our time, she/he would receive more of it than many of our other relationships. But, when that partner is no longer there, the value priority that he/she offered is not there. We have freedom to respond to many other people--and we have choices--but are uncertain about how to value them and thus allow that value to shape our decision making.
Same with work--work requires commitment, predictability, significant time. Because of our commitment of time to that work, we don’t have as many other choices. We can’t respond to as many other offers of things to do with our time. But, when that work is gone, we have freedom to choose to respond to many other things--without the structure that having to make money gave us.
Thus, if forgiveness is about freedom, and freedom is about responsibility--the ability to respond--then sometimes our inability to forgive the past for not being permanent is grounded in our fear of freedom.
And this then becomes a spiritual issue. Who can we trust in a future which is unpredictable?
This is the issue that the Hebrew people had. Their faith in God was tested as they were free from slavery--wandering in the wilderness. Was the God of their ancestors trustworthy in the future? Do we really believe that the God who provided offspring to old Sarah and Abraham will provide bread for us? Do we really believe that the God who experienced the dying of the old order will have the ability to hold us while the new order is being structured? Can we forgive God for not making the way things were the way things will always be? Can we forgive God for not making permanent the structures we have come to love and trust? Our ability to believe in God is directly related to our ability to be freed from the pain of not getting the world the way we wanted it so that we can be open to seeing the way God is remaking the world of the future.
And what does it take for us to make that trust operative within our hearts and not just some mental commitment?
I think it takes a community of people--a steadfast community--one that is God like--that is one that will be there, suffering with me in my transition in life. Loss and transition are times of deep vulnerability where we fear for our very existence--because our existence as we have known it is threatened at worse and shaky at best. The presence of faithful companions is critical to our ability to trust that God will be there in our unknown future with some structure that will make us feel safe. When we are feeling like a stranger to ourselves, it is good to have persons around who help us remember who we were and who find us interesting even when we are strange. But more importantly, who will be there for and with us as we welcome the stranger and become friends with the new world in which we are living.