As some of you might know, I work as a hospice chaplain. Part of the hospice work is to help bereaved families go through their grief in a manner that is as normal and healthy as possible under the circumstances. Everyone’s grief and grieving process is unique and different. However, there are some common processes we typically go through in our journey of grieving for a great loss. For example, the well-known “5 stages of grief” articulate for us that we often go through the emotions of denial, anger, trying to bargain and wishing it could be different, and deep sadness - before we can finally come to terms with the loss in a new acceptable and peaceful way. We don’t necessarily go through these stages in a nice sequential way, nor everyone goes through them all equally. However, the point is that grief requires a time and process, because it involves our emotions as much as our intellect; our emotions need time to catch up to our intellect.
Recently, I had to deal with forgiving someone. Now that I think of it, it’s not really about forgiving someone of what that person has done to me but more accurately about letting go of my self-conceived notion of what that person should have done and being disappointed when that person’s behaviors did not match up to my expectations. So, it really was my own making.
However, it did hurt. I was disappointed, upset, and frustrated. I didn’t really realize what was happening at first (denial), got really upset when I began to realize what was being done (anger), tried to see if I could change it (bargaining), and got extremely sad when I realized there was nothing I could do to change anything (sadness)… You see, I was going through the classic grieving process. And, when I was able to see my emotions as grief, I began to realize what I was going through wasn’t so much of what that person did to me but what that person did that wasn’t matched up to my expectations. You see, I was really dealing with my sense of loss - what I thought I had and I now realized I didn’t anymore. Yes, it was a real sense of loss but nonetheless it was my own sense created by my own expectations.
Well, when I realized it was my sense of loss that I was dealing with, whether it was all or partially my own making, I knew I had to grieve the loss before I can begin to “forgive” in my heart. Instead of focusing on the behaviors of that person, I started to focus on my own feelings. And, I grieved. I grieved the loss of relationship I thought I had. I let go of the expectations and hopes I had of this relationship. I stopped trying to make things “better”. And I began to see even more how much of it all was really my own wishes and expectations that were hurt. And I began to find comfort in God knowing that God is here to meet (or, consistently exceed) my expectations in life and can fill the deepest emotional needs of validation and sense of belonging that no human can provide perfectly. I began to come to a terms of acceptance, the last stage of grief; acceptance of my sense of loss, acceptance of the person and the way things are, and finally the acceptance of how things might be different in future but can still be blessed by God.
So, here it is. Forgiveness as grief. When you have feelings of hurt and disappointment, do not force the process. But, do not just stay where you are either. See if you can look at it as a loss. Name the loss, whether it’s real or perhaps of your own making. Either way, see if you can grieve the loss. Be honest with your emotions, understand what you are feeling, take time to go through them, and see if you can let them go as you go through them. Perhaps you will come out realizing it wasn’t so much about “forgiving” that person but about bringing your loss and grief before God who can forgive us all in one - forgiving those who are not perfect so end up hurting and disappointing those around them, and forgiving those who are also not perfect but have hoped others to be perfectly meeting their needs. God forgives us all. God receives everything that we need to let go. God is here to fill the deepest void that is created because of it all. Grieve, let go, and find God.
And that's why God gave himself to us, and his church to this world.