Love, forgiveness, reconciliation

Jason Block has, in my comments, accused me of dangerous behavior. You ain’t seen dangerous yet. 🙂

He writes:

To continue on, what you are doing is incredibly dangerous on three levels. You stated, “I know that as a Christian, I’m ORDERED to forgive.”

Please do not take this as an attack on your faith, but the consequences of bottling up anger.

a) Studies have shown that not letting out anger has led to higher blood pressure, stroke, and stress levels.

b) It is perfectly ok to lash out in anger. In fact, the situation described would be the perfect example of where anger would be not only ok, but a GOOD thing. She should have been fired, because she threatened Kiddo #2. She put Kiddo #2 in danger. Doesn’t that make you mad?

c) Feelings, as stated by Ivy and others, are not things you can turn off like a light bulb. What are you afraid of? Are you worried that you are showing a bad example to Kiddo #1? It is OK to be angry. What can’t you see about that?

Firstly, I never said I was bottling up anger. The purpose of forgiveness is releasing anger, getting it out of your system, and clearing your head to act. That way, when you act, it’s calculated and effective. Acting in the heat of anger is often ineffective, over-strong, and counterproductive.

I would also argue that lashing out in anger perpetuates the existence of the thing that made you angry in the first place.

Let’s set up some definitions. Anger we’ll define as “the physical and psychological reaction to having one’s boundaries violated or one’s person harmed.” Forgiveness we’ll define as “the process of ceasing to feel resentment, indignation or anger against another person for a perceived offense.” And finally, we’ll define a term that hasn’t come up yet in this debate, reconciliation: “ceasing demands for restitution and resumption of the previous relationship.”

With that established, let’s look at Jason’s accusations:

a) not letting out anger has bad health consequences.  I absolutely agree, and if you’ll notice, the specific purpose of keeping me awake that night was for me to release my anger before going to sleep.  Since forgiveness consists in large part of releasing one’s anger toward one’s aggressor, forgiveness should be good for your physical health (as well as one’s spiritual health for Christians, who as I said before are ordered to forgive and to ask forgiveness.)

b) It is perfectly ok to lash out in anger. Sorry, can’t agree.  In this particular circumstance, we have a mentally challenged maintenance worker who was following the orders she was given by her supervisor. Lashing out at her would have made her confused, sad, and scared.

The level where things needed to be changed was at her supervisor’s level, where orders needed to be given to lock the entrance rather than the exit, or check the restrooms for occupants before locking the exit.

The maintenance worker was in  no doubt that I was angry, and she herself was frightened by what had happened. If I’d threatened her (and trust me, I dearly wanted to tell her that if she’d left my daughter there, I’d have hunted her down and killed her) she would have concentrated on my threat and not spoken to her superiors, not changed her behavior, and might have quit, opening the position for someone else who would then not check the restrooms for occupants before locking them.

In sum: I’d have harmed someone who didn’t understand she’d done wrong, with no malice, and perpetuated the broken system.

c) Feelings are not things you can turn off like a light bulb. What are you afraid of? I’m afraid of becoming the kind of hardened person who would threaten to hunt down and kill a mentally challenged janitor who had made a mistake after following badly-written orders.  And as I stated in the first post, I had to work hard to separate the anger from my need to take action.

Here’s the deal: forgiveness and reconciliation are separate things. I never said that I would not take action to change the defective system that could have harmed my daughter. In fact, I’ve written a very clear, very stern, and very surgically-suggestive letter to the person who’s in charge of that particular beach. In that letter, I laid out the situation, explained the consequences of not changing their procedure, and suggested a different procedure which would safeguard other children and not violate fire codes. I will follow up if I haven’t heard back in a reasonable timeframe.

Reconciliation would mean I took no action after forgiveness. I would say to myself, “The situation is upsetting, but that’s okay.” Forced reconciliation would be dangerous because it would allow an unsafe situation to continue. But I’m not reconciled to this.

You can forgive without reconciling, in other words. You can say, “I’m no longer angry about this situation, but I also choose not to put myself in it any longer, and I will make sure it does not continue to be harmful to others.”

Forgiveness is seeing the human heart of the person who harmed you, recognizing that the person is not a monster, and connecting your own brokenness to theirs. It fosters understanding. And it makes you clear-headed enough to act effectively when you do act.

I fail to find that dangerous.

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About philangelus

Mom, freelance writer, novelist, angelphile, Catholic, know-it-all.
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10 Responses to Love, forgiveness, reconciliation

  1. Diana says:

    I have been thinking about this (forgiveness without reconciliation and how society deems this as behaving like a doormat) a lot lately. I think you’ve hit the head on the nail. Many in today’s society can’t comprehend how or why someone could/would forgive without “closure” and not end up being resentful. I think it’s one of the keys to being a successful Christian. The point of forgiveness is to REALLY forgive, not to just clam up and pretend, while simmering the whole time. I have been amazed at how the angry feelings DO go away when I make the deliberate choice to forgive. I don’t ever feel like I can control that, and is clearly a grace from God, but its a welcome grace nonetheless. I always see it as a reward from Him for our attempts at following the narrow path.

  2. Memphis Aggie says:

    You’re right – holding on to anger is corrosive. Forgiveness is freeing and stress revealing (I’m sure you’ve felt it after a good confession). It’s more about the person who offering forgiveness that who you are forgiving. Just lighten the load, if a serious injustice was done then God will remember it for you because he promises in the Beatitudes to satisfy the hunger for justice. If it was not that serious then harboring it is really dangerous and could even put you under the law. Remember the Our Father “… forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others…”

    The psychologists myth that letting out anger by acting out is good for you has been dispelled scientifically as well as by common sense. Stoically bearing the anger until you can deflate it with reason and forgiveness (sometime it takes a while) is really much healthier. Not just because it returns the blood pressure back to normal, but because it avoid an escalation or extension of the stress. Common sense, science and the proverbs agree with you.

  3. Lane in PA says:

    May I add this totally different interpretation found in Luke 17:3.
    “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.”

    Now I don’t particularly see the incident at the beach as being an issue about forgiveness as much as it is about carelessness on the part of people who have simple responsibilities that can have serious consequences if they are not paying attention. Yes, had it been my child, I would be angry, but that anger would have been driven by fear of what could’ve happened, and a general outrage over the incompetence of those who hire people who don’t have the sense enough to check to see if the restroom is empty before locking up.

    At this time in my life, I am dealing with a mother and a sister who have grievously trespassed against me. I can not forgive them for what they have done. They have not repented for their actions or asked for forgiveness.

    If I forgive them for their trespasses, which include physical assault with deadly intent, theft, deception and character assassination, I would be letting them off the hook.

    “We are not to cheapen the gift of forgiveness by giving it prematurely or undeservedly, to those who demand it and act as if they are entitled to it, and yet have done nothing to merit it. The Lord’s higher purpose is to change men’s hearts and make them turn from evil, give up their wicked ways, and choose to follow HIM instead of Satan. He does that by requiring repentance before forgiveness, not by giving evildoers a free ride.”

    “http://www.luke173ministries.org/templates/System/details.asp?id=39548&PID=466809

    Anger is an important emotion. As I remember from the New Testament, Jesus demonstrated his ire at the money-changers in a Temple, kicked over tables and drove them out. The unrepentant sinners later conspired for his arrest and condemnation. Jesus didn’t forgive them for this, instead he asked his Father to “forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    • philangelus says:

      Forgiveness is NOT letting someone off the hook. If someone were to steal your car, and you forgave the person, you would still expect the law to hold him fully accountable for grand theft auto.

      Forgiveness means letting go of the anger against them and stop renting them space in your head.

      Anger is important, but once it’s done, it’s done. It’s like fire: you need it for heat or for cooking, but you don’t want it blazing out of control.

      You have an extraordinary situation with evil relatives, and I fully believe they don’t deserve one thing from you. But you can forgive them unilaterally while deciding not to reconcile with them. That’s not letting them off the hook: that’s saying, “You have to face the consequences of your actions, but I’ve chosen to stop letting them affect me.”

      Jesus doesn’t require repentance before forgiveness; we’re told to forgive our neighbor 70 times seven times, not “As often as your neighbor asks for forgiveness.” Forgiveness lets YOU, the wronged party, off the hook.

      The aggressor still needs to answer before God and before the law for his or her crimes.

      • Lane in PA says:

        I hope you don’t think I was trying to be facetious. I had just recently read Luke 17:3, with a different interpretation of forgiveness and I found it interesting for purpose of discussion.

        Forgiveness would definitely be a wonderful state of mind for me. My therapist discusses it with me every week at the end of our session. And forgetting my abusive relatives would be a blessing. I am working very hard to “get those monkeys out of my head”.

        Colleen’s comment about forgiveness and reconciliation is probably what I am going through but did have the words to express myself adequately. I work to forgive them, to give my heart some peace, but I can’t reconcile with someone who refuses to acknowledge her abusive ways.

        (Colleen, I am very sorry for what your father did to you.)

        Complex issues you have brought up, Jane. I am glad that you wrote about this.

        • philangelus says:

          No, not at all facetious. In “The Unburdened Heart,” the author says the biggest impediment to forgiveness is the fear that by doing so, we’re letting the aggressor off the hook.

          I guess my thought would be that if your therapist is pushing forgiveness every time, that maybe you need to gear back a bit, let your heart heal, and after a time you may find forgiveness happened without you really noticing. I’ve also at times had to say, “God, I want to forgive these people, but I can’t, so please forgive them in my name, and then help me to do it on your own timeframe.” That way you know it’s been done, and you can relax and let God work without you struggling with how long it’s taking.

          (There are three people I need to forgive and instead keep closing my mental filing cabinet on! It’s easy not to think about them, but that’s not forgiveness.)

          We’ve talked here before about unilateral forgiveness versus bilateral forgiveness. What you’re talking about is bilateral forgiveness, which requires their “I’m sorry” before you can forgive. Because they’re unlikely to do so, the way to keep them from holding your heart hostage is unilateral forgiveness.

          • Ivy says:

            “Because they’re unlikely to do so, the way to keep them from holding your heart hostage is unilateral forgiveness.”

            Or kill the image of them that exists within you. My step-father is dead to me. I spit on his imagined grave. I don’t need to forgive him to keep him from keeping my heart hostage; I’ve taken back that power by slaughtering him in effigy.

    • Ivy says:

      Hugs. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that.

      What I’ve learned is that “to forgive” is a verb. “To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.” per the American Heritage dictionary. It’s an action you can choose to take or not take as you see fit.

      “To heal” is a verb as well “To become whole and sound; return to health.” per that same dictionary. That’s the action you must do–heal, recover, and become whole again.

      You will notice neither definition references the other.

  4. colleen says:

    A priest once said in a homily that there is nothing wrong with emotions, including anger. Anger itself is not sinful, What is important is what we DO with the emotions. Beating someone over the head would not be a good thing, for example.
    I have forgiven my father for molesting me. I have forgiven him many times. Something like this is a lifelong process. Every time a new layer of pain pops up, I feel anger and hurt and I need to forgive him again.
    But I cannot reconcile with him. I have tried. But he refuses to change, he refuses to see how much he has hurt me. Reconciliation needs two people to make it work.
    I think this is probably a good example of the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.

    • philangelus says:

      Colleen, thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry you went through that, and I’m amazed at how strong you must be to forgive someone repeatedly that way.

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