If you go through the 12 steps of Monbourquette, step 10 is the biggest wonder. Stop wanting to forgive absolutely.
We are stuck
|I ran into her at a reception and recognized her immediately, although it had been a long time since I had seen her. She had followed the growth group into forgiveness no fewer than three times. She still had that wonderful combination of a happy smile and a sad look.|
“I certainly don’t regret following those groups,” she said. ‘I learned an incredible amount from it. But it hasn’t worked for me.’
‘What do you mean?’ I wanted to know.
She shrugged her shoulders.
“That I still haven’t been able to forgive him, of course,” she said.
“And that’s what you wanted to achieve,” I added.
She nodded, a little surprised at such a self-evident comment.
We talked some more about small talk. It was a pleasant conversation.
As we parted ways, I inquired if she still had Monbourquette’s book on the bookshelf. Yes, she did.
“It’s really worth re-reading it every now and then,” I tried softly. ‘Definitely step 10 gives so much peace…’
If you go through the 12 steps of Monbourquette, step 10 is the biggest wonder. It almost seems like a silly joke: then you go through all that effort because you so long to forgive, finally you’ve come this far, and suddenly there’s that sign ‘Stop wanting to forgive absolutely.’ It almost sounds like ‘Back to start’.
Yet a big and important step is being taken here: not in the area of doing, but of being. You stop being the hero of your own forgiveness path, the author of your forgiveness story. You let go of your desire for personal perfection. You stop ‘trying to forgive’, but you don’t give up.
You only make space within yourself, so that God’s Spirit can do God’s work of love in all freedom in you.
You stay on the road in forgiveness, but you no longer map out the route yourself. You follow and be guided, unconcerned about the amount of time it will take. A month or a lifetime, it doesn’t matter, you trust.
Forgiveness and Performance
Wanting to walk in forgiveness is a beautiful thing, a miracle of love.
But just as ‘bad’ things can have ‘good’ intentions (see step 7), ‘good’ things can have ‘bad’ things creeping in. That is inherent in life.
The passionate networker for a project on the vulnerable person discovers that he or she has begun to divide people into two categories: interesting or not interesting, and that the vulnerable person has been forgotten. The mother who gives herself completely for her children finds that she makes these children unhealthy dependent on her. The successful researcher on children’s spirituality discovers that he or she hardly has time to play with children.
This is no different with forgiveness.
Together with the beautiful decision to want to forgive, an excessive focus on the end goal can arise. The end goal becomes more important than the road. Impatience arises because it takes so long and the ‘failure’ is answered with a growing persistence. Forgiveness has become a project with itself in the lead. It has become a personal achievement where the persistent wins.
If we recognize this persistence in ourselves, there is no point in continuing in this way. Even if we should achieve something that resembles forgiveness, there is not the slightest chance that someone can receive it as a gratifying gift. When forgiveness becomes an achievement, we are in the dynamic of success or failure, winning or losing. Who can accept forgiveness from someone who shows with some complacency that although it was very difficult, he or she managed to forgive? Who experiences such forgiveness as a gift of love?
Such forgiveness does not contribute to a closer relationship or to positive change. Such forgiveness only widens the gap between giver and receiver. What someone throws down from a higher seat does not have enough power to provide healing.
Is that why God came to us as a baby with his gift of forgiveness? Is the vulnerable God in our arms the only one from whom people can accept divine forgiveness?
In this step, we let go of any stubbornness. We embrace our inability to forgive . We rely on Someone greater than us to set the rhythm and the strange twists and turns in our way.
|Camila ( ° ) is a twenty-year-old girl. From the very first time she took her boyfriend Jonathan to her house, she had noticed that her sister Sara was getting on very well with him. She tried to curb that jealousy, but on subsequent visits Jonathan seemed to have forgotten her, so animated were his conversations with Sara. Jonathan continued to deny everything until a month later Camila discovered dozens of deleted messages on her boyfriend’s laptop, which clearly indicated that he had started a secret relationship with her sister.|
Camila was devastated and ended the relationship with Jonathan. After a while, she noticed that her anger at Jonathan had diminished, but the hatred for her sister seemed to be increasing day by day, though she had long lost contact with Jonathan. She couldn’t bear to be around her anymore. She couldn’t even sleep anymore.
In her despair, she began to pray that she might be able to forgive Sara. Nothing happened. Finally she changed her prayer. “Lord, you know I cannot forgive her. I give you my inability to forgive. Will you forgive me, in your time.’
She’d thought she’d get up one fine day and find, “Hey, I really did forgive Sara.” But that wasn’t what happened. After a very long time, almost a year, during prayer time, fond memories of her sister began to come back: the countless times they had comforted each other, studied together, or laughed together. She had discovered that she still loved her sister. A year later, Camila still finds it difficult to meet Sara. She rarely looks forward to it, but she also rarely dreads it. Her insomnia is gone. There have been times when she really enjoyed talking to Sara.
She doesn’t worry about that volatility in her feelings anymore. She is honest about those feelings in her prayer. There she can let go of everything in confidence, and she continues on the path she has chosen.
Perhaps even one of Jesus’ statements on the cross is an expression of this dynamic of letting go. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus saying, “Your sins are forgiven you.” “I don’t judge you either.” But nailed to the cross, humiliated, maimed, abandoned by God and men, He does not say to His executioners, ‘Your sins are forgiven you’.
Here comes: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (Lk 23,34)
Could it be that Jesus is here asking God to forgive where He could no longer do so? Is Jesus Himself showing us the way into forgiveness here?
|I don’t remember what we argued about, but I do remember that after a heated exchange, we both withdrew, convinced that we were right. I started rattling pots and pans in the kitchen, Luc attacked the garden with the secateurs. At one point, when the anger had cooled somewhat, I looked outside. He was just trimming the roses. He took a step back to check the result, then leaned forward again to the rosebush. Caring, almost tender, and also a little lonely. Suddenly I felt the anger disappear completely. I knew I didn’t want to argue with him and that I loved him. I went outside and we hugged. Is that forgiveness? It came naturally. Ella Out: Katie Velghe, Happy family. Finding meaning in everyday life , Tielt, Lannoo, 2012, p. 67.|
Forgiveness and Moral Duty
Sometimes this persistence is reinforced by a moral sense of duty.
It is then not only about wanting to finish what we started, that we want to succeed in ‘our’ forgiveness, we also feel confirmed in this by a divine mandate. It’s not just us who want to forgive at all costs, God Himself says we must forgive.
There is, of course, a grain of truth in this. The entire New Testament is filled with the call to forgive.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven those who owed us” ( Mt 6:12 )
“Be kind to one another and compassionate, forgive one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” ( Eph 4.32 )
The urgency and frequency of these calls make it clear that something very important is involved.
Peter, one of the twelve disciples, also hears Jesus repeatedly calling for forgiveness. It should therefore come as no surprise that he wants to know more about this call. He asks for a moral rule. He wants precise information about forgiveness. Just as we, when an important project is entrusted to us at work, want to know everything in order to be able to bring it to a successful conclusion. What is the deadline? How bulky should it be? Who is the target audience? And maybe also: what bonus does it give us?
|Then Peter came to him and asked, ‘Lord, if my brother or sister sins against me, how often must I forgive? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, “Not up to seven times, I tell you, but up to seventy times seven.” (Mt 18:21-22)|
Jesus’ answer shows that although forgiveness is something we must do, it is of a very different order from what we usually understand by duty. Forgiveness is something that cannot be contained or measured: when it comes, it comes in abundance.
The ‘moral duty’ should not be an alibi for making forgiveness an achievement.
True forgiveness is always binding. But when forgiveness is experienced solely as a moral duty, someone is always humiliated.
Either the person who wants to forgive feels terrible because they can’t.
Or it “works out,” and the person who forgives rises at the expense of the sinner who must be forgiven. The other is reduced to an object, an extra in one’s own forgiveness epic.
While we delude ourselves to do what God wills, we try to be God ourselves.
Jean Monbourquette illustrates this with the story of one of his clients: a former missionary. This man had devoted much of his life to the evangelization of the community entrusted to him. But his zealous missionary work was not appreciated by everyone, quite the contrary. When the provincial heard of this, he ordered the missionary to leave his mission and return to his country. The missionary found it very difficult to accept this decision. Outwardly he showed little sign, but inwardly he struggled with resentment. After a while he decided that he wanted to free himself from these feelings and that he wanted to forgive his ex-provincial for the injustice and suffering he had caused him.
|He started by praying for him. Several times a day he repeated to himself “I forgive you,” but it was in vain. The more he exerted himself, the deeper his resentment grew.|
In desperation, this father resorted to a last resort: a closed retreat with the sole aim of being able to forgive. He went straight to work: he read about forgiveness, thought about forgiveness, sat for hours in the chapel repeating ‘I forgive you’.
Sometimes he thought he had achieved his goal, but the next day he woke up with the same pain in his heart.
On the evening of the fourth day he sat meditating in the chapel and took the New Testament. He opened it to any page and saw the text about the healing of the paralytic. His eye fell on the Pharisees’ remark, “Only God can forgive.” Suddenly he realized how futile it was to rely solely on his own strength. He finally understood that he was driven by a desire for power. All his fine efforts had only served to camouflage his anger and resentment. He became aware of his unspoken desire to outdo his ex-provincial in magnanimity and at the same time subtly take revenge on him.
This discovery led him to surrender completely to God. At first he tried to relax. Then he opened himself to the grace of forgiveness, but without wanting to know when, where or how he would receive it. Two days later, he had the vague, growing sense that something in him was unleashing. He was overwhelmed by a great peace. His heart became less heavy and his soul was liberated. Oddly enough, he didn’t even feel the need to repeat the magic formula “I forgive you.” Resentment had loosened its grip and forgiveness had taken up residence. Jean Monbourquette, quoted in Claude Vandevoorde, Interdiocesan Family Pastoral Service, If You Seek Peace, Growth Group Forgiveness Manual , 2004, Tenth Meeting, pp. 12-13.
Patience instead of persistence
The word ‘grace’ is popping up more and more. ‘Divine grace’ – what is that? We will go into this in more detail in step 11.
Suffice it to say here that our mission is to replace obstinacy with meekness. We want to answer our eagerness, purposefulness and ambition with patience.
We rarely learn patience in school or in a work context. Objectives must be achieved and targets must be met. Nature is a much better teacher of patience.
The trees wait patiently for spring to come, when it comes and not a day before. The birds leave when it’s time. The fields are waiting for the rain. The grass does not grow faster than it grows, and certainly not by pulling it.
Again and again nature teaches man lessons in patience. Sometimes just looking at it, sometimes the lesson is more painful. A layer of snow of three centimeters forces the whole of Flanders to miss targets. A fallen tree can mean that we are late for an important appointment. A natural disaster or pandemic makes us realize how vulnerable we are and how little we can control ourselves.
Vulnerable people are often much closer to this nature and its rhythm. For example, children, people with disabilities, the chronically ill and the elderly force us to slow down, revise schedules and be patient, in love.
Many people learned to be patient in painful and tragic circumstances. That we have been wronged is such a circumstance.
|Not counting and counting; but ripen like a tree that does not uproot its juices, and that stands quietly in the spring storms, without fear that there will be no summer after it. It will come anyway, but it will come only for the patient who live as if eternity lay before them, so carefree still and wide. I learn that daily, learn it with pains for which I am grateful: PATIENCE is everything! From: Etty Hillesum, In a Thousand Sweet Arms. New diary entries of Etty Hillesum , De Haan, 1984, p. 139.|
|STEP 10 IN A NUTSHELL|
To walk in forgiveness is… to forgive is to let go of achievement. The road is no less important than the final destination. To walk in forgiveness is… to let go of forgiveness as a moral duty. True forgiveness is so abundant that we cannot make it ourselves. For the path to forgiveness, patience is more important than endurance or purpose.
|STEP 10 AT YOUR HOME |
Become aware of your reactions to persistence or letting go.
How do you react when you are stubborn? What signals do you send out? What do you notice in your body? How do you behave? Ask yourself the same questions when you let go of something. Get to know the trees in the neighborhood with the kids. Repeat this walk in all seasons. Make a tree booklet in which you describe, draw, stick photos or dry leaves. You can also give each tree a name. Together with the children, marvel at the changes in the trees.
Ask questions like:
I wonder what that tree thinks about getting new leaves / getting completely bald / getting all those new colors / the storm tearing branches / …
I wonder what the tree will do now that this has happened.
I wonder if the tree likes spring or autumn the most.
…Let the children determine the course of the conversation, don’t try to force insights. Perhaps there will come a time when you read the following quote with older children.” Trees can teach us a lot about ‘healing’. Nature is an open book, a book written by God Himself. Bernard of Clairvaux already wrote: ‘I have no other teachers than the beeches and the oaks.’ In their strength, trees show the way to healing and forgiveness. Every year they grow from wounds to wonder. By letting go of their leaves, surrendering in confidence to the chill of winter, and then opening themselves to the warmth of the sun, they bloom again every year.” From: Ria Weyens, From wound to wonder, Carmelitana, 2000.