There's a lot of talk about forgiveness these days. The health benefits alone, they say, are astounding. I don't disagree. Hanging on to resentment and blame for years can do a number on our lives and our bodies. Hatred long held can be like a cancer literal or figurative in our lives.
But there's another side to forgiveness, a dark side. It's often used in response to people who are angry. I have recently experienced a large betrayal and have been expressing a healthy amount of anger in response to something very painful. Within 72 hours, people were already telling me to forgive.
This got me thinking, "What's the rush?"
The Rush to Forgive
I started to realize that my anger was making people feel uncomfortable. They wanted me to forgive so they could quickly move back into peace. That's fair, they don't have to hear it, but that doesn't mean the rage must dissolve so quickly.
Sometimes, the call to forgive -- or calm down -- was a way for the church to keep control over people. Don't be angry, forgive. Don't stand up for your rights and be angry, find peace and move on. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail is all about this. He talks about the white man's request that African Americans slow down, calm down, and wait for segregation and racism to end "peacefully" was really a means of pacifying a justified rage. He didn't buy it. He knew they were afraid of giving up power.
Forgiveness is not dissimilar. Telling someone to forgive someone who betrayed them can stifle the healthy processing and expression of rage. As MLK said, no one gives up power willingly. Rage has power in it and if responded to in a healthy way it motivates action. If we skip to forgiveness, we may miss the changes we need to make. Especially women, who are often seen as hysterical when they are angry. And especially spiritually-minded people who want to be perceived as evolved. Sorry, if you're alive you will feel these uncomfortable emotions. That's just part of the deal.
Forgiveness is like the make-up sex of emotions.