by Nancy Unchuan Toledo
It is easy to check how much taller we’ve grown or how many more wrinkles and gray hair we have and how much weight we’ve gained over the years. But it’s a little bit more tricky when we want to check how far we’ve come in terms of our-as one writer calls it-“inner landscape.” I’ve found that rereading journal entries, old letters and old college and high school compositions is a good way to look at emotional and psychological photographs of ourselves.
More often than not, those photographs contain emotional scars. Some so little they’re barely noticeable at all. And some still so deep and fresh that it hurts even now. We are all scarred human beings. Some people just seem to have more scars than others and some just deal with it better, I guess. We all go through stages of pain and frustration and stress that, whether we like it or not, take its toll on us even when we’re not aware. And confronting those issues and those people that hurt us is a very painful experience no matter how grown up we think we are. Because at the end of every situation we are always left with the same choices-to forgive or not.
On an intellectual level, forgiveness would be the most obvious choice because it’s what our faith teaches us, its what psychologists urge us to do, its what we, ourselves, would advise others to do. And it would be an easy choice too if human beings were emotionless androids. But we aren’t and so forgiveness, is in fact, a very messy business.
It’s a messy business because even if we’ve made the decision to forgive someone, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we get rid of all the negative feelings. And it’s messy because even if we forgive someone, they might not necessarily forgive us. And it’s messy because forgiveness doesn’t always fix the problem that caused the hurt. And it’s really messy because it doesn’t guarantee that the person who caused the hurt will no longer hurt us again. On the contrary, it’s quite rational to believe that the person who hurt us will definitely hurt us again. Because, let’s face it, human beings are flawed. And forgiving someone doesn’t make the “forgivee” perfect.
But what is the alternative? To hold on to grudges that last longer than our lifetimes? To shut others out so that they no longer have the power to hurt us? To relive every single bad experience we’ve ever had so we’ll never forget what it feels like to be angry and betrayed? To mistrust and try to uncover everyone else’s ulterior motives so we can try to anticipate their plans to hurt us? To never have to be bothered with saying sorry, since, well-how can we expect other people to forgive us if we don’t do the same for them?
Or maybe we could just forgive some of the time? When we feel like it or when we’re not worried about other things? But then, when are we not worried about other things? Or just certain people, maybe. Like the people who are really close to us. But the problem with that is the people who are close to us are usually the ones who hurt us the most. Or maybe, we’ll just forgive certain situations but not others. Like maybe we could create a list of what we’ll forgive and situations that fall outside the list would be considered “unforgivable.” Or maybe we could limit our I-forgive-you passes, say, maybe two or three to a person? But keeping a tally would be exhausting unless we limit the number of people in our life to a manageable number.
Even thinking about whether we should choose the path of forgiveness is draining. It’d be easier not to think about it.
Really, forgiveness would have been so much more negligible if Jesus had not specifically preached about it so many times. He’s pretty mysterious about some things in the Bible (or maybe they’re just mysterious to me). But forgiveness isn’t one of them. What things can be forgiven? Just about everything. Who can be forgiven? Everyone. How many times can we be forgiven? An infinite number of times. Who should do the forgiving? Everyone. That includes God himself, mind you. And ourselves. How can you argue with that?
And it’d be easy to think of it as one of those impossible-ideals-that-nobody-ever-lives-up-to-so-why-bother? type of things if we never actually met or heard of people who did exactly what we’re not supposed to be able to do. Like say, the late Pope John Paul II who visited and chatted with his would-be assassin. Or Immaculée Ilibagiza, the Rwandan massacre survivor who forgave her family’s murderers. Or on a smaller scale, the patient wife who tends her dying philandering husband and stays with him till the end. Or the parent who welcomes a wayward child back into the family. Or the friend who managed to be kind to an ex-boyfriend who broke her heart.
There’s no excuse for it. We’re all called to choose forgiveness. And we’re called to do it all the time. And with everyone. No matter how messy it is. Sometimes we’re called to let go of the painful and unhealthy situations and relationships, but we’re called to forgive the people who caused them anyway. Maybe not right away. But at some point. Because the alternative is a life without forgiveness for ourselves and for others and that is hardly a life at all.