At the beginning of this year, we posted a reflection here in which we encouraged you to grow in love as your legacy of 2017.
One way to start is by looking backward at one incident of 2017 so far.
Please think of one incident with one person in which you were loved unconditionally, perhaps even surprised by a partner or a parent or a caring colleague.
Think of your reaction when you felt love coming from the other and you felt love in your heart and the other saw it in your eyes. What was said? How were you affirmed for whom you are, not necessarily for something you did? What was the other’s heart like, and yours?
Can you list some specific, concrete ways in which you have chosen love over indifference? Love over annoyance? If so, what are those specifics and how are they loving? We ask because 2017 is about 25% over. Have you engaged in 25% of all the loving responses that you will leave in this world this year?
This exercise is meant to show you this: You know love. Now the key is to persevere and deliberately strive to love on a daily basis.
Tempus fugit. If you have not yet deliberately left love in the world this year, there is time…..and the clock is ticking.
Yes, we can love strangers when we realize that all people have inherent (built-in) worth. Therefore, we can serve those we do not know. We can come to the aid of strangers. When we give money to a suffering person who has her back to a wall as you pass by, you are showing that she has inherent worth. When you refuse to retaliate toward a stranger who is not good to you, you are showing that the person has inherent worth. As you show such worth to others, you are loving those people as you serve them.
I think that help of some kind is always good if that help is wise and supportive. In other words, speaking with someone who cares about you can help with the carrying of the pain and the lifting of that pain. So, talking it out is a good thing as long as the other understands, cares, and does not pressure you to forgive.
I heard this statement from a person who holds a considerable degree of academic influence. The learned scholar, however, did not give a learned response as I will show in this little essay.
Suppose that Brian is driving his car and is hit by a drunk driver. Brian’s leg is broken and he must undergo surgery and subsequent rehabilitation therapy if he again will have the full use of his leg. What happened to him was unjust and now the burden of getting back a normal leg falls to him. He has to get the leg examined, say yes to the surgery, to the post-surgical recovery, and to months of painful rehab. The “burden of change” specifically when it comes to his leg is his and his alone.
Yes, the other driver will have to bear the burden of paying damages, but this has no bearing on restoring a badly broken leg. Paying for such rehabilitation is entirely different from doing the challenging rehab work itself.
Suppose now that Brian takes the learned academic’s statement above to heart. Suppose that he now expects the other driver to somehow bear the burden of doing the rehab. How will that go? The other driver cannot lift Brian’s leg for him or bear the physical pain of walking and then running. Is this then unfair to Brian? Should we expect him to lie down and not rehab because, well, he has a burden of restoring his own leg? It would seem absurd to presume so.
Is it any different with injustice requiring the surgery and rehab of the heart? If Melissa was unfairly treated by her partner, is it unfair for Melissa to do the hard work of forgiveness? She is the one whose heart is hurting. The partner cannot fix the sadness or confusion or anger……even if he repents. Repentance will not automatically lead to a restored heart because trust must be earned little by little. As Melissa learns to trust, she still will need the heart-rehab of forgiveness (struggling to get rid of toxic anger and struggling to see the worth in one who saw no worth in her) that only she can do. Once hurt by another, it is the victim who must bear the burden of the change-of-heart.
We must remember: The rehab and recovery are temporary. If the forgiver refuses to engage in such recovery, then the injurer wins twice: once in the initial hurt and a second time when the injured refuses to change because of a woeful misunderstanding that he or she must passively wait for someone else to bear the burden of change for him or her.
Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas tend to have bad consequences. Learned academics are not necessarily learned in all subjects across all cases.
Suppose that Angela has been friends with Barretta who has neglected the friendship now for over a year. Barretta’s flaw is of a passive nature, not being present in the friendship. The neglect has hurt Angela.
Angela sees that Barretta is not a good friend and decides to end the friendship despite her active attempts to reconcile. At the same time, she forgives her. Her forgiveness leaves open a kind of sisterly-love for Barretta that now makes it more difficult to leave the friendship.
In this case, is forgiveness a process that is standing in the way of the truth: that Barretta will not make even a reasonably minimal friend for her? Her feelings of sisterly-affection, which are kept alive by forgiving, are making her re-think her decision to leave a friendship that holds no future if Barretta’s behavior remains as it is.
In this case, is forgiveness a weakness in that Angela retains affection that continues to hurt her? The short answer is no, forgiveness itself is not weakness, but the failure to make distinctions in this case could be the weakness. Here are some important distinctions for Angela to make:
1. There is a difference between forgiving-love and sisterly-love toward Barretta. Agape is a love in service to others as we see and appreciate their inherent worth. Philia (brotherly- or sisterly-love) is the kind of love that is mutual between two or more people. In the case of Angela and Barretta, the love is no longer mutual. If Angela makes this distinction, then she will see that philia no longer is operating between them.
2. There is a difference between feeling warm toward someone and the pair acting on it in friendship. While Angela might feel a warmth for Barretta, kept alive by forgiveness, she cannot let her feelings dictate her actions. She must stand in the truth and do so with a strong will. A strong will works in conjunction with the soft feelings of forgiveness.
3. There is a difference between practicing forgiveness as a lone moral virtue and practicing it alongside justice. When forgiveness and justice are teammates, Angela is more likely to conclude that even though she has warm feelings for Barretta, there are certain troubling behaviors she shows that work against a true reconciliation (because Barretta remains without remorse, with no signs of repentance, and no signs of making things right).
4. While it is true that her vigilance in forgiving may keep alive agape love in her heart (with accompanying warm feelings toward Barretta), those feelings, while perhaps uncomfortable, are not nearly as uncomfortable or damaging as resentment. Forgiveness will not lead to a pain-free solution in this case. It will lead to standing in the truth of who Barretta is (a person of worth) and whom she is incapable of being to her (in the role of friend). It will lead to feelings that may be uncomfortable (the warmth of agape without appropriating this in a friendship with Barretta) but manageable. Angela needs to distinguish between the discomfort of a retained agape love and the considerably more uncomfortable feelings of resentment.
When these distinctions are made, forgiveness is not a weakness even in this example.
Editor's Note:Darlene J. Harris is a sought-after speaker, author of "And He Restoreth My Soul," and the developer/leader of workshops and retreats for women. She writes primarily on the topics of sexual abuse and molestation because by the age of 18 she had been raped twice. "I don't want anyone to hurt like I did," is the mantra that drives her. This is her story in her own words.
Too Young to Have This Secret. . . and Too Old to Still Keep the Secret.
The Question – Would Forgiveness Help?
You see, rape was my secret, the secret that almost became my death.
I wasn’t able to stop playing the charade game with my friends and family for a year or two, waiting to graduate high school and move out on my way to college.
I am a believer in Jesus Christ, the lover of my soul, the lifter of my head, and the light of my life. Nevertheless, I did not trust Him with the whole problem. I remember making this statement the morning after the rape: “Lord if You keep me from getting pregnant, I will take care of the rest.”
I had made my first bargain with God! I didn’t know the magnitude of these words: “I will take care of the rest”, nor the effect it would have on my life. “I will take care of the rest” meant I will control all future situations. I will keep families from falling apart; I will keep members of my family and the abuser’s family from killing one another. I could do this. And I wouldn’t let anyone hurt me ever again, ever. Nevertheless, I didn’t have the type of control I thought I had. My future held a second rape, near rapes, and a lot of pain. I now know if I had known more about God, His power, His understanding, and most of all His love for me that my life would have been different.
Nevertheless, by the time I was 40 years old, I realized I was not handling life very well. I had moved to California, running away as far as I could before I had to turn around and look at me. I looked at the tired me, and the hurting me, realizing that I could no longer escape. Yet, God met me with favor, mercy and love. He walked back through history with me and cleared a path for me to have a future. Most of all, He took me through a journey of the “F word.”
The Affirmations From Rape that Affected My Life
My rapist was an African-American boy with a very dark skin tone. For years later, the sight of dark-skinned men represented fear, hurt, and pain to me. If they tried to get to know me, I distanced myself from them, whether a friendly or personal approach. For the next twenty years, I limited myself to associating with men whose skin tone was lighter than mine.
My rapist continued to ask me, “Is it good?” I now know this question set me up to believe I had to be good to keep from being hurt. This question became my question in my future intimate relationships. I had to be good to avoid being hurt. But deep down I knew I could never be good enough to take back those nights.
My boundaries were destroyed and my trust was violated. Out of my fear of being hurt, and not feeling wanted, I clung to fear, anger, and shame. These emotions became my constant companions. The decision I made that one Sunday night, determined the next twenty years of my life. They moved in and made themselves at home in my damaged spirit for over twenty years.
In my twenties, I also suffered physically. Various medical problems that caused me to undergo several surgeries that included a hysterectomy at the age of twenty-eight. I continue to suffer from irritable bowel and/or digestive problems. Medically speaking, these symptoms are often reported by women who may have a history of sexual abuse or assault.
“Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord
But He, The Lord, didn’t act fast enough for me, at least in my eyes. He didn’t take His fury out fast enough or long enough to justify my pain.
After ten years, I saw my rapist once again. He had come back home for his father’s birthday. I stopped to visit with the family, and at that point I didn’t know what to call him. The charade was still alive while in the midst of the family. Nevertheless, he and his brother decided we would all go to the neighborhood bar and have a drink. We were standing in the kitchen, and his mother was cooking, warning us to be home in time for dinner. At that moment, I felt this “hot” hand on my behind, and it was as if another person suddenly rose up in me, a very (concealed) angry person.
We went to the bar, found a seat, and we begin to talk while his brother went off to talk to some other people he knew. At that moment, remaining surprisingly calm, I asked him, “Why did you rape me?” He answered, “Because another group of boys told me they had already had sex with you.” Needless to say, I was surprised he just blurted out his answer. He didn’t even have to think about an answer. I couldn’t believe he didn’t deny raping me and justified it by blaming others. He had given this act of violation a “name”….RAPE, and had given it some thought during the past ten years and was able to answer as calmly as he did, without any remorse.
That angry person, that rose up inside me, set out to go on a mission—a mission to cause as much pain as possible because of the pain I had hidden deep in my spirit for so long. Oh, and so this was my plan: I now had my own apartment, and later that evening I invited him to see where I lived. I excused myself and dressed for the occasion, and now it was time to pay him back. I cannot tell you, how I thought my plan of seducing him would be a payback. Nevertheless, that was how twisted my thought process was at the time.
I was out to seek vengeance. My heart was hurting and needed healing. The mind, the thoughts that took over became very dangerous. To my amazement, I didn’t feel any better—not the satisfaction I was seeking after seducing him. If anything, I felt a deeper shame and disgust toward myself. No wonder God says, “Vengeance is mine….” God was the only real warrior in this battle.
I didn’t understand forgiveness. I didn’t want to let the rapist off the hook. First, from being a product of Christian teachings, forgiveness became the “F word”*. My therapist urged me to at least consider the “F word”. I researched it in an educational, mentally logical manner, and that didn’t help me.
If I’m truthful, I didn’t want to understand Forgiveness. However, during the time I was in therapy, I was also attending a church that understood and taught about the freedom that Forgiveness brings to one’s life; and I love my freedom. I listened, prayed, studied, and talked to my therapist. My relationship with God became important to me, and most of all, I wanted God to know I was sorry for all the years and hurt I caused others and myself. I want nothing that would cause separation between myself and the GREAT I AM.
For once now I understood that Forgiveness was not about payback for hurting me, but that it was about freedom for me. I asked God to forgive me and then invited Him into the healing process.
When I look back, I was in darkness for a long time. I needed Forgiveness for the pain I caused myself by holding hate and anger in my heart. I also needed Forgiveness for the pain I caused others. I had to come before God because of the serious condition of my heart.
Definition: The action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands
I cannot write about Forgiveness without including my thoughts about Revenge. I wanted to hurt my rapist. In my heart, he deserved to hurt as he’d hurt me. However, no matter what plan for revenge I thought about, it was never good enough. Revenge backfired in my face, and if it is a plan you are considering, it would be prudent to learn from my experience.
God The Great Avenger
Romans 12:19 New International Version: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Vengeance delays God’s intervention. Vengeance delays Forgiveness, and it delays healing because it is a problem, deep in the heart.
Forgiveness can be immediate, yet it is your choice, but healing is a process.
Where was God?
Where was God? is always a question from survivors. “Why me? Why didn’t God stop him or her from hurting me?” For many survivors, it becomes a nagging, yet very important question. It connects to your belief in God, and this is critical because it questions the foundation of your belief system.
What I know is God is ever present, and that God was present at the time and place of my rape. He was my witness. God cried for me. God was angry. God felt everything I couldn’t feel and everything I did feel. God saved my life during and after the rape before I was forced to look at me and say,“Lord, I can’t do this by myself.”
Free will is a gift from God to you and me
Definition: Free will is the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.
Free will is what God gave to man at the beginning of time. God didn’t want to force a man to love Him. God wanted to give a man the opportunity to choose Him, to love Him, to worship Him.
In my story, God didn’t take away the rapist’s decision to rape. God could have stopped him. He knew the thought was there. He knew the plan and set on the sideline watching once again, as it were, for the purpose of testing my faith. Yet, God is true to His word, and will accomplish His plan, only to bring glory to Himself.
Romans 8:28 New International Version: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called, according to his purpose.”
I know in my heart this verse is tried and true. God worked anger, hatred, and vengeance out of me. When I tell my story now, my rapist has the beautiful smile he always had. The picture changed, and so did my heart. Forgiveness gave this to me, and my healing follows.
Where Am I Today and What drives me?
What drives me was quoted in the December 1995 Edition of the L.A. Valley Times and still holds true today: “I don’t want anyone to hurt like I did.”
Through my adversities, God has provided me a ministry. A ministry that includes a book project entitled,And He Restoreth My Soul.This book serves as a resource guide for those helping abused survivors who are struggling to put the pieces of their lives back together in the wake of abuse.
Above all, I have a life and a certain peace I would not have if I had not forgiven my rapist. # # #
Do you realize that your practicing forgiveness now may pay unexpected dividends for you decades from now? As an example, look at how the Amish community handled the tragedy in Pennsylvania in 2006. The world wondered how the community could stand in forgiveness after 10 girls were shot and 5 died. The answer: Forgiveness is part of their daily culture.
Please realize that each decision and each act of forgiveness now may pay great dividends for you and others 20 years from now. Forgiveness today is an investment in your future. Robert