Nouwen: Forgiveness

Nouwen: Healing Our Hearts Through Forgiveness

“How can we forgive those who do not want to be forgiven? But if our condition for giving forgiveness is that it will be received, we seldom will forgive! Forgiving the other is an act that removes anger, bitterness, and the desire for revenge from our hearts. Forgiving others is first and foremost healing our own hearts.” —Henri Nouwen in Bread for the Journey (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997).

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Recently I was with an amazing group of women in Searcy, Arkansas, as we talked about forgiveness. One of the first questions from two of the women was, “How can I forgive someone who has harmed me or someone I love when they do not see that they have done any wrong?”

These are the hardest hurts for me to forgive as well. We think we are doing fine; but then we hear how the people involved see no wrongdoing on their part, and an angry dragon rears his head again. This anger is nothing like our initial reaction; but it still endangers our body, our mind, and our soul. We are allowing the people and the situation to continue to harm us—unless we can transform that energy into something useful for our body and the world.

I think of a small church-related school that I, and many others, were involved with that was closed overnight. After several years, most of us have worked through the disappointment and have moved on. We will all carry a scar; but for the most part the wound is healing.

Most of us decided that if we cannot forgive those involved in the closing, or those who did nothing to prevent it, they are still hurting us. They take up space in our minds, our life, our bodies, and our relationship with others. We all have prayed to transform the huge amount of energy generated by this hurt into something positive. We all are now discovering gold—deep down below this pain.

I often go to a place where I remember the children and teachers and school board singing and carrying small lighted candles as they walked out into the world, in pairs, at the conclusion of the school’s last graduation. What I do cherish every day is the light that each of those involved at this school now bring to so many other schools, homes, churches, and places of work. We have been sent out to share what we learned from that experience: the relationships, the love, the kindness to others, the acceptance of differences, the belief in a very loving God.

There was so much light radiating from that school. That is why it was so hard to leave. But now we have been commissioned to carry the light we received there out into the larger world. We can make a difference in so many other lives, and so many have been doing just that.