Everyone needs to heal from something; some more than
others. My list was long. At first, I blocked out some of my
victimization and did not even recognize all the wounds for what
they were. Is that not the way it often is? Often the things we
flaunt only hide the wounds we do not want to see. When they are
first uncovered, like any exposed wound with the covering pulled
off, the pain intensifies. I just wanted to get past everything—to
live a normal, happy life and not to be held captive by the past.
Forgiveness was the key dangled in front of me during therapy
and later through a newfound faith.
The typical goal of forgiveness, however, is to unload our
burdens and feel better. Perhaps you have heard the saying: “To
forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was
you.” — Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts
We Don’t Deserve
What I have come to understand is that when we forgive in
order to unburden only ourselves it is incomplete forgiveness.
Perfect forgiveness means loving fully; like God loves us.
Oh pleeze! Right? I get that. Initially, the thought of forgiving
and loving the ones who hurt me seemed unreasonable—
repugnant actually. I laughed out loud at how absurd that idea
sounded when a priest first brought it up to me. How could I
possibly forgive them? Did God not understand the depths of
despair these people had brought me to? Yet, without perfect
forgiveness, we are stuck in the past where the offense first cut
into our very being. Without forgiveness in its entirety we are stuck
in the wound to rot never achieving the fullness of our own human
dignity and purpose.
I was a victim of a number of offenses that changed me
forever. In my youth, I was molested, raped, physically and
emotionally abused, neglected, and eventually made homeless.
It is a truth that we cannot heal from what we do not acknowledge.
And forgiveness is required in order to move into healing.
Society and those around us can actually trap us in victimhood
by discouraging perfect forgiveness and by tossing away the idea
that we could ever possibly love those people who hurt us. But
that is the lie; that is the incompleteness of the forgiveness cycle.
For what is forgiveness without love? Forgiveness has to come
What helps us to complete the perfect cycle of forgiveness is
our own understanding and implementation of human dignity for
each and every person. Even the person who hurt us.
It is the example given to us by Jesus Christ. For when He
hung on the cross and said: “Father, forgive them for they know
not what they do,” (Luke 23:34). He did not pray that to the Father
in order to set himself free. It was never about him feeling good
or even better about the situation, but rather about loving us and
giving us the ultimate example of the dignity of every human being
regardless of what they may say or do. And that is the fullness of
forgiveness that God calls us to if we are to truly respond to Jesus:
“Come, follow me,” (Matthew 4:19). It is forgiveness perfected
by Christ. The world seems afraid though—or perhaps unbelieving—
to tell a victim that love for their attackers is possible. It sounds
crazy, but that is what perfect forgiveness demands. When we
can fully forgive, not only are we set free, but we allow for the
setting free of the people who hurt us. That is the full and perfect
cycle of forgiveness that God created and set as an example
Before I came to perfect forgiveness, I had pushed the pain
from my abuse so far down that I did not even know I had been
victimized. But meeting the people God would put in my path
eventually led me to awareness and understanding. Through
my husband, for example, I saw that family life could be different
than what I had experienced. I became aware of the severity of
my traumas and realized through my relationship with him that
my past experiences were not “normal.”
My family dynamic growing up was broken and fragmented,
but I soon came to learn that family life was intended for something
different than what I had experienced. It had been intended as a
means to help us grow and prosper.
Through the Church, I learned about human dignity, and the
teaching on the Image of God. I had never heard of this concept
before. I’m created in God’s image? I’m a little piece of God? It
was a thought I pondered. I learned that I was truly a daughter of
God and that my body was holy. Never before had I associated
my body with anything holy. Quite the opposite.
Through my journey, I also came to understand how important
our childhood and families are to each one of us. Through the
family, we can be either formed, or deformed. When a child
experiences sexual abuse during formation it leads to deformation
of the sexual identity and perceived self-worth of that child. After I
was molested and raped, my idea of sexual function and identity
was deformed. I did not grow up with a healthy understanding of
my own sexual identity and what role it was supposed to play in
my life. Rather than knowing the true purpose and worth of my
body and sexuality, I had been molded to believe through my
traumas and experiences that the body had no value and that
sexuality was a tool to be used.