by Fr. Thomas Berg and Dr. Timothy Lock
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
In choosing forgiveness one needs to forgive oneself for the sins of hurt/heart and forgive those who need to expect the other to forgive. Perhaps the title jumped out at you, but you’re not really sure why, except that you sense deep down that “Yeah….forgiveness has always been tough. “ Some hurts are your everyday garden-variety irritations and agitations, the “sling and arrows” we endure for having to live in the company of other human beings who lose their tempers, get up on the wrong side of the bed, say nasty things, are ungrateful, selfish and irritable. Some hurts are a magnitude that far transcend these degradation, exploitation, abandonment, rejection, and humiliation, racism bullying physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Whatever your reason for picking up the book, we’re confident that the book can help.
To say that offering forgiveness is a challenge is an understatement. Forgiveness is tough! Forgiveness is often messy. Forgiveness doesn’t feel good to most of us. And when it comes to the biggest, deepest hurts in life, forgiveness can seem impossible. But we certainly can attest and we hope you have experienced many times in your life that with God’s grace, even in those most difficult cases, forgiveness is possible. Consider for a moment the following true story, even if you’re already familiar with it. It’s one of the most humanly impossible cases of forgiveness you’ll ever hear.
The author tells of a story of a prisoner who was being prayed for. God answered the prayer. It came in a moment, in a sudden flask of the infinite tenderness of God, drawing on her own deep tenderness and empathy. “You are all my children” came the message to her heart: Every one of the killers, the baby abandoned in the roadway whose desperate cries the women had to endure until the child finally died every Tutsi and every Hutu were all his children. She was able to pray for the killers because she understood, intimately that on the inside, they too were children—frightened, forsaken, crazed children. “And I could forgive a child,” she suddenly realized. There are so many things about forgiveness:
That with God, forgiveness is always possible
That forgiveness often comes only as the fruit of great toil and intense prayer
That forgiveness normally is not a one and done kind of thing but a process
That even if we want to forgive, we sometimes are not ready
That in forgiving the perpetrator, victims recover their own agency and dignity
That when you forgive someone, you are set free.
Jesus assures us that “If the son of man makes you free, you will be free indeed: (Jn 8:36) But what about forgiving someone relying on our own human strength alone. It is possible. History has known different forms of forgiveness: the canceling of debts, pity, clemency, amnesty, exoneration, political pardon and so on. You can find plenty of amazing stories of amazing human beings who, in pursuit of high humanitarian ideals and moved by empathy for their wrong doers, have come to a place of forgiveness.
Christian forgiveness, graced forgiveness, forgiveness in the experience of the early Church, even so today, this kind of radical forgiveness is an outlier. It’s just as startling when you come across it today as it was at the beginning. And we need it more than ever.
So what can this book offer you? Or more precisely, what can God’s grace do in you and for you through the pages that follow? Underlying our unforgiveness are emotional wounds—some small and transitory, some deep and life-changing. Whether inconsiderateness of others that we must forgive, or the deeper hurts, they all leave their impact. So much so that we might imagine our heart as looking something like the lunar surface: pummeled with craters. Scientists tell us that these lunar craters range from microscopic in size to the largest one, which is some 180 miles in diameter. So even if –thanks be to God—you don’t find yourself dealing with deep hurts, this book can help you find healing for the smaller hurts. A lot of readers are dealing with major hurts. Any eventual healing of these wounds requires us, first of all, to acknowledge them. As we will see in the pages ahead, part of our deep resistance to forgiveness resides in our unwillingness to deal with the wounds that gave rise to the unforgiveness in the first place. This book gives us a chance to re-think many of the propositions that we take for granted, the deeper the hurts, the more intense the longing for the freedom forgiveness can give us.
To allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the stories of forgiveness that you will encounter throughout the book. We’re convinced that forgiveness is above all a grace—a gift that Jesus want to give us. Use this book to lean on him, to allow him to lead you on a path of forgiveness and healing of the hurts in your life. If you are dealing with a major area of hurt in your life, you ,might even want to set aside some time away. Take this book with you and us it almost as a guided retreat in which you open yourself to the healing and freedom our Lord can lead you to through these pages.