Forgiveness is a journey – a truth Dave Faulkner reminds us of in his story of being wronged. People aren’t machines who can immediately forgive. Sometimes we receive the grace to forgive right away, but many times it may take a whole lot longer…
Beans on toast. That was my special meal for my thirtieth birthday.
I was a single man, training for the ministry in Manchester, living in halls of residence. My friends John and Judy invited me to their flat to celebrate in true economic student style. At the end of the evening, John offered to call a taxi to take me back to my hall of residence. Being an experienced city dweller (and wanting to save money), I declined. I said I knew where it was safe to walk.
Big mistake. A teenage thug cornered me. In one kick, he removed my glasses, which smashed on the pavement, and he injured my eye. Not realising I was a mere student, he demanded I took him home for him to take my TV. Eventually, he got away with my wallet, containing £7 and my credit and debit cards.
Limping back to hall, friends gave me first aid. One called my bank to cancel the plastic money. Another – a former solicitor – took me to the police station and waited with me until I had finished my statement at four in the morning. A few days later, an optician assured me there was no permanent damage to my eye.
Local gossip told me that the hoodlum was well known in the area. Yet the Police never arrested him. I don’t think they made much effort.
I’m grateful that most people gave me space to get over the shock. That took longer than the injuries. Having grown up in urban London, my confidence in my own judgement took the greatest battering. So much for walking a lit-up route.
The only unhelpful person was a tutor who put a time limit on my emotional recovery – after which, he declared, I should seek counselling. He meant well, but I was glad no-one else quantified my ideal recovery period.
As I recovered, I found people asking me one common question: if you’re a Christian and you believe in forgiveness, would you have co-operated in a prosecution, had the offender been apprehended?
My considered answer was yes, but it was a qualified affirmative. For the sake of society, I would have given evidence in any court case. But I would only have pressed charges once I knew I held no more resentment in my heart against him, and that my reason for doing so was for the protection of the community, not personal revenge.
Regardless of the Police’s failure to arrest a known thug, it was a while before I got to the point of no resentment. Forgiveness is a journey, and we forget that. I have heard horrendous stories of Christians suffering unspeakable wrongs – even rape – and the only response from their church has been, ‘Have you forgiven him?’ There is no acknowledgement of the injustice or the violation, all that is administered is a theological tick-box questionnaire.
I know it’s well meant: we don’t want people dying in an acid bath of prolonged bitterness. But when we rush to insist on forgiveness, it may not be forgiveness that is produced. For rather than feeling the pain and then releasing the perpetrator in forgiveness, the sufferer suppresses her anger.
Suppressed anger has to find a way out: Jack will not stay in the box forever. The coiled spring of suppressed anger can come to the surface in all sorts of unhealthy ways. One is depression.
If you know someone who has been greatly wronged, I urge you to walk with them on a journey to forgiveness. Be present, and be patient in our instant-on world for the slow work of grace.
You may just help them to a deeper and truer forgiveness than if you had insisted they flick a spiritual switch.
Dave Faulkner is a Methodist minister in Surrey. He is married with two children. He enjoys digital photography and creative writing. His latest blog project is at www.confessionsofamisfit.com.