Brian Lennon is an Irish Jesuit, committed to the Northern Ireland peace process and involved in many grassroots processes. He has recently published a very interesting little book that I had the occasion to read today: So You Can’t Forgive …? Moving Towards Freedom (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2009, 84 pp.). He concentrates on and analyses the processes of forgiving in a wronged person, stresses the importance of separating from the wrongdoer before, in a Christian movement as illustrated by many biblical references, moving beyond the separation. Brian synthetically summarizes the process of forgiving (he doesn’t want to use the word “forgiviness” or “reconciliation” as he concentrates on the processes in the wronged person alone) in four steps, the latter two reflecting the move into a Christian attitude and its call to forgiving:
- Recognizing my anger and accepting it as legitimate.
- Letting go of the desire for revenge by separating myself from the wrongdoer.
- Developing a degree of empathy with the wrongdoer by distinguishing between the bad act and the person who did it.
- Wishing the perpetrator well.
The use of the “I” person involves the reader as if it were in the process of a challenging workshop and, indeed, the book offers insights which are grasped with more depth when readers become involved with their own histories of being called to forgiving, when the book begins to tickle one’s own life.
I am really impressed by this book as it unknots what I could call the “compulsive Christian” in me, who feels guilty while having to fathom patiently all the diverse aspects of a process of forgiving, thereby unlocking many possible pitfalls that I would have liked to avoid, but that I am called to address if I desire to heal in freedom. I allow myself to quote a passage from the book, on p. 27, that is profoundly compassionate, full of humor and encouragement:
COMPARING OURSELVES TO OUR LORD
Another trap, for Christians, is to compare ourselves to Our Lord: he did it, so why can’t we? One answer is because we are not Our Lord!
Yes, we are called to follow Our Lord. Yes, he did say ‘Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect.’ But nowhere in the gospels does it say that we have to achieve this overnight.
We have to be patient with ourselves. One old, old trap is to set ourselves a goal, e.g. giving up drink, then beat ourselves up for not achieving it, and then because we are fed up on account of this we go back on the drink!
It can be the same with forgiving: we can set ourselves impossible goals, and then when we fail we give up the whole idea.
Brian invites us to engage into forgiving as a life process of growing in freedom and of following God, unfolding patiently the rich complexity of a love that heals us by allowing us to explore our depths.