Forgiving is not optional; we’re supposed to love our enemies by forgiving them and praying for them. And if we’re expected to forgive our enemies (if God expects it of us, then obviously it is possible to do so) then we should forgive the people who are not our enemies even more.
There is, however, a bit of a snag for us when it comes to forgiving.
There is a difference between being reluctant to let go of anger to forgive, and suffering from unclosed files. They occasionally go hand in hand, but are in fact two separate things.
For example: someone promises to get some work or some article or whatever it is, to you by a certain date. The date arrives and passes, but your mailbox remains empty.
What happens then is an open file situation. Anxiety skyrockets, increasing and severe discomfort occurs, possibly resulting in anger because the situation is so unpleasant. The person involved does not react to our increasingly desperate requests (and then demands) to supply the promised material. The file remains open.
So, what do we do with this thoughtless and unreliable person causing all this?
At this point, with an open file and increased anxiety, don’t even bother trying to think about the command to forgive. It’s not going to work. In fact, all it’d be doing is opening ANOTHER file that won’t close.
First of all, the file needs to be closed. Until it is, it will not be clear whether or not forgiveness even comes into play. It’s not a matter of being unwilling to forgive. What we need is to be given a new date when to expect the material (and this one being kept) or an immediate delivery of said material. Most likely either of these will close the file and solve the problem.
Chances are that once a file like that is closed, forgiveness won’t even be an issue. Although some of us might appreciate an apology for the discomfort it caused, in others such a thing might not even register.
But we certainly are *capable* of holding a grudge! If that is the case, then we should take a good look at the command to forgive, and attempt to do so.
Forgiveness, however, comes in three levels of difficulty.
- The person who wronged us is aware of it, is sorry, apologized, and wants to make amends. This is an ideal situation (although it might still be difficult!) in which to forgive, especially if the person involved is a friend.
- The person who wronged us is unaware of it. This is a bit more difficult. There are two choices here: forgive with the situation being as it is, and the recipient of forgiveness unaware of even needing it. This is what we will encounter frequently, since a lot of people will be unaware that they cause us problems and pain. The other option is to make the person aware of our sense of being wronged. They will inevitably revert to situation 1 or 3 in that case.
- The person who wronged us has been informed of this, but is indifferent, uncaring, or even hostile. This makes forgiveness a bigger challenge.
Expect to encounter 2 and 3 most frequently. The things that trouble us are usually incomprehensible to others, and most often they will simply not realize, not care, or shrug it off as some quirk of ours. In fact, that we have autism will often lead people to think that any upset in us is due to our autism – which it may often be, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, or that dismissing our feelings is not painful.
We DO sometimes react in ways they do not understand. This is not necessarily a fault of theirs. It is one of the biggest differences in their brains compared to ours.
To us, almost everything is of equal importance. Our brains do not do a lot of filtering. We see loads of details…LOADS. We tend to remember a lot as a result, but not always in its proper context, or in any context at all. This is probably also why we may completely freak out over something ‘unimportant’ but be completely unconcerned about something neurotypicals would consider a big deal if it were done to them.
Neurotypicals, however, not only differentiate between ‘important’ and ‘unimportant’ but the ‘unimportant’ things ACTUALLY DISAPPEAR FROM THEIR BRAIN! They get caught in the filter and are washed out as if they’d never entered in the first place!
So what upsets us may, to them, never even have happened. It’s completely crazy, but apparently that’s how it works for them.
Knowing this may help us in forgiving the shrugging off.
A subcategory of this topic is:
We wrong people all the time. It’s a given. Often, but especially in a meltdown, we can be rude, aggressive, ignore people, reject those who wish to help, or a combination of those. We may believe others guilty of willful hostility and malice, when most of the time they are only ignorant.
A lot of the time we don’t do any of this on purpose. We’ll not go into the matter of sin again here, as we’ve already said enough on that earlier.
But sin or no sin, guilt or no guilt, we can always apologize, especially to those we consider friends, and/or those we encounter frequently.
It is not necessary to apologize to random passers-by, people we most likely encounter only once (like on the bus or train). In situations with people we encounter frequently, however, an apology and some explanation may be acceptable social behaviour. Take care not to go into unnecessary detail in an explanation. ‘I got overwhelmed/stressed out/my brain had trouble with all the noise/I need a lot of clarity and in this situation I did not know what to expect’ usually is plenty of explanation in such situations.
Our friends are a different matter. They will already know what went wrong, and most likely have forgiven us already, if they even held it against us in the first place. That would negate the need for an apology, except that we, of course, do not mean to hurt our friends any more than they mean to hurt us. An apology serves in this case as an acknowledgement of this. It says ‘Even though I could not help the situation, the result was that I treated you in a way that does not belong to the behaviour commonly associated with friendship. I wish you to know that I acknowledge that, and do not mean to treat the situation as if rudeness/aggression/rejection towards you is in any way unimportant or pardonable’. That whole paragraph can be summarized by ‘I’m sorry that this and that happened.’
Jonah: I find forgiveness in the case of abuse to be complicated. Forgiveness does not excuse the abuser, nor does it mean I will trust. It means that I no longer motivate myself in the relationship based on the abuse. To suggest that forgiveness is initially more is not safe.
The depth of forgiveness for me requires focusing a lot of energy on getting to know myself. I begin to understand the ‘why I do certain things’ of it all. At the depth I meet my own needs and attempts for survival and get to look at how those survival skills have both helped and hindered me.