I struggled with the idea of forgiveness for years. Though I found myself impatient with people who held onto grievances for years – let it go, for gawd sake, I would think – I nonetheless couldn't move past the idea that forgiving my husband for what he'd done was letting him off the hook. It was somehow sending the message that it was okay, that I was okay and that we could leave it in the past.
I hadn't yet forgiven my mother for her addictions, for actions that landed her in a psychiatric hospital right when I needed a mother. Though I loved her deeply and respected how hard she'd worked to achieve sobriety, forgiveness felt...wrong. It felt like dismissing my own pain, like minimizing the devastating impact that her alcohol abuse (and then my husband's cheating) had on my life. The impact it had on me. My health, my work, me!
And yet...I wanted it. Forgiveness also tempted with liberation. I imagined how good it would feel to unshackle myself.
Musician Nick Cave calls forgiveness "self-rescue", and I don't think he's wrong.
"Forgiveness can prevent us from becoming the living definition of the injury that has been inflicted upon us – from being consumed by anger, pain, resentment and bitterness. But how difficult it is to sometimes forgive; how unfair it seems to reward offence with compassion. Yet, despite our intuitions, despite the seeming insanity of the enterprise, we must try, because forgiveness can be the way to self-preservation. Forgiveness is an act of self-love where the malignancy you have endured can become the motivating force that helps enlarge the capacity of the heart."
We must try, he tells us. We must try. Cave speaks not of succeeding but of trying. It's an important distinction. It is in the trying that the liberation, the unshackling comes. "Even the attempt to move toward forgiveness allows us the opportunity to touch the borders of grace," writes Cave. "To try is an act of resistance against the forces of malevolence – a form of defiant grace."
Defiant grace. I love the phrase. And even more, I love that 'defiant grace' describes exactly what happened for me. Though I loathed the idea of forgiving my husband, I continued to move towards it. Because I loathed the idea of remaining bitter and small and afraid even more. Forgiveness wasn't letting my husband off the hook, it was releasing me. It was a refusal to allow my husband's choice to step outside our marriage to define me.
Forgiveness isn't a single decision. It is a choice we make daily, whether to remain shackled to the offence – and the offender – or to practice defiant grace. I choose to try.