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Some researchers and practitioners claim that there is no place in psychoanalytic work for forgiveness. “Clinically, the concept of forgiveness is seductive, implying that there should be a common outcome to a variety of injuries, stemming from different situations and calling for different solutions.” (“Leaps of faith: is forgiveness a useful concept?” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, October 2008, abstract) Possibly the researchers and practitioners are correct, forgiveness has no place in psychoanalysis.
However, I would submit that forgiveness has a role in sustaining personal well-being with profound spiritual implications. We are all wounded. When individuals hurt because of the acts of another person or their own volition, we feel anger, resentment, betrayal, and at times hatred. All of these negative feelings can result in depression, discouragement and defeat.
Forgiveness can be a means to experiencing positive spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. Research has suggested that forgiveness can decrease blood pressure, reduce depression and stress, and bring calmness, growth, and serenity. When we forgive we let go of damaging feelings and are then able to rediscover compassion and grace.
HOW DOES FORGIVENESS HAPPEN?
Max Lindenman states in his article, Moral Injury Shows the Limits of Forgiveness, “God’s mercy doesn’t heal moral injury; instead, moral injury prevents us from experiencing, or accepting, God’s mercy.” (July 8, 2015, posted on Patheos, Hosting the Conversation on Faith) If Lindenman is correct, how can the veteran journey toward forgiveness? How can the veteran who has experienced a spiritual injury, whether PTSD, moral injury, or a soul wound, journey toward transformation and healing of the soul? They begin a long spiritual quest that includes confession and forgiveness. Last month we discussed confession. Now we turn to forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an active choice. It is intentional and voluntary. Intentional – It follows personal assessment and insight. Voluntary – Forgiveness cannot be imposed by others.
It is a process and it takes time. Process – Forgiveness is not about saying the words. It is an active process where the person wronged or the person who has committed the offense undergoes a change in feelings and attitude toward the offender, or the incident, or themselves. We must also remember, forgiving does not mean forgetting. Even after forgiving, most likely we will remember the injury, but we will no longer be controlled by anger, resentment, and hatred.
Time – Forgiveness occurs over a period of time as the person works through several phases; exploring the pain, gaining insight, and exploring resolution. Also, forgiveness does not necessarily connote reconciliation with the offender. We can forgive and later decide we do not want to be in relationship with the other person. Important to note, when we forgive, we are no longer bitter toward those who wronged us or shamed by the act toward the person we wronged.
By forgiving others and ourselves, we gain control of our lives from destructive and hurtful emotions.
THREE KINDS OF FORGIVENESS
Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures offer much instruction when it comes to forgiveness. There are three kinds of forgiveness;
- God’s pardon of our sins
- our obligation to forgive others their sins
- the ability to forgive ourselves
All three are important to understand for our discussion. In order for any of us to experience personal well-being, we must experience all three. Let’s briefly look at each.
God’s pardon of sin – War has been regarded as a gross consequence of human failure; in theological language, sin. The conduct of war often descends into brutality. Even when the outcome may bring peace, the broken and shattered lives along the way become a reminder to those who were engaged of war’s harsh realities. A sense of brokenness and alienation from God occurs resulting in warriors experiencing grievous wounds to their souls.
We cannot repair our broken relationship with God on our own. David, warrior and general, experienced a spiritual injury. He boldly confesses his sin to God and asks for forgiveness. (Psalm 51) God can remove the stain of guilt, create a clean heart, and renew the spirit. We are reminded each time we celebrate Holy Communion, that on the night prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, Jesus took a cup of wine and told his disciples, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28, NIV)
Our obligation to forgive others – Forgiving others means releasing the other person from blame, leaving it to God, and moving on. Some guiding principles are: We do not seek revenge. (Romans 12:17ff) We are tenderhearted toward the person who sinned against us. (Ephesians 4:32) We actively seek the repentance of the person who wronged us. (Matthew 18:15-17) Lastly, we do so because we have been forgiven by God. In Colossians, Paul reminds us that just as the Lord graciously forgave us, we should extend the same kindness to others. “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (3:13, NLT)
Our ability to forgive ourselves – Often the most difficult thing for us to do is forgive ourselves when we do something wrong. We are our hardest critic. Even long after God and others have forgiven us, we still beat ourselves up. Learning to forgive others involves learning to forgive ourselves. Seeking forgiveness from God and others when we are in the wrong is important. But it is just as important to learn from our mistakes and move on. Scripture reminds us to love one another as we love ourselves. Should we not also forgive ourselves as we forgive others?
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE VETERAN
Forgiveness opens the veteran to experience an abundant life. A path of forgiveness represents growth and can lead the veteran toward personal well-being. To do so, we rediscover compassion and grace.
All too often, society replaces grace with shame, resulting in feeling unworthy, cutoff from God and one another. Once we throw off shame, grace seeps into our souls. Forgiveness is the vehicle to experience grace.
If forgiveness is the vehicle, what is the path? There are numerous paths to experiencing grace. We will highlight three: ritual, story, and service.
Ritual – The faith community over the centuries has practiced forgiveness through ritual. Ritual can help the veteran to accomplish several things;
- come to terms with that which hurt
- move from anger to understanding
There are many rituals available to the veteran. Central to most faith communities are practices and rituals offering forgiveness. Whether through corporate or individual prayer, persons can seek forgiveness from God, their neighbor, and themselves.
Prayers of forgiveness can take many forms;
- composed prayers or litanies (The Book of Common Prayer, Iona Abbey Worship Book, The Work of Your Hands are some examples, or websites: http://prayersofthepeople.org, http://godprayers.org, http://worldinprayer.org)
- extemporaneous prayers
- a letter to God
- praying in action (art and craft, collage, symbolic actions)
Often the veteran cannot express or seek forgiveness face-to-face from the persons they have harmed. However, the veteran can journey toward forgiveness through ritual by practicing forgiveness by a simple act such as;
- write a letter expressing hurt and anger, then burn it
- write another letter expressing forgiveness and the reasons behind the decision, keep letter or mail it to the person harmed
Story – One of the most powerful paths a veteran can take is through community, a community of other veterans. Other veterans understand the story of pain, death, destruction, and desolation. Because veterans share a similar context of loss, guilt and shame, they most often will listen, respond with support not judgment, and not condemn nor excuse what has happened. Just sharing it is helpful, but having others who understand becomes healing.
Service to others – By practicing acts of kindness opens the veteran’s heart and eyes to recognize the goodness in themselves. This also reinforces a sense of belonging in community and of acceptance in the community. Acts of kindness avails the veteran to work through the most difficult part of forgiveness, self.
Forgiveness is truly the grace by which we enable ourselves and others to begin anew with dignity. If you have experienced other ways toward forgiveness, please share with us.
Next month, we will discuss the third step in the spiritual model for healing from moral injury, self-acceptance. Until then, thank you for the conversation…