A pastor friend and I talked about forgiveness.
“Have you forgiven them, the ones at the former church?” he asked. “I think so,” I responded. I don’t ruminate over it as much as I used to, that much is for sure. But, yeah, I still write about it, about what happened, about the hurt it caused, mostly to help others who might be going through a similar situation.
How do you answer that question honestly, though? How do know when you’ve completely forgiven someone for what they did? When do you know if you’ve truly moved on?
I roll the question around a bit for a few days, then decide it’s had enough of my attention.
It’s not until I’m sorting through digital photos on my computer one day and I run across a video of me singing with my daughter in church. The former church. The one where the hurt happened.
I’m only a few seconds in when the tears start. I remember the day. Anxiety already had its ugly claws in me that morning, my voice already starting to lock up, frozen in my throat. Watching the screen, I recognize the fear behind the smile. As I sob, I mutter to myself how angry I am at “those people” for “taking my voice from me.”
And there it is, plain for anyone to see.
Forgiveness and Blame are Kissing Cousins
You can tell yourself all day long that you’ve moved beyond a thing. You can believe in earnest that the ones who once wounded you have no sway over you now. But when the past swings open that door with brutal confrontation, the cruelty can crack your soul wide open. The assault of the past shows no mercy.
Right there before my computer screen, grief slams into me with such force that all I want to do is smash something. So in lieu of breaking objects, I hurl insults. I blame them again. The ones who rejected, the ones who wielded the weapon that pierced me to the core.
Is it unforgiveness or is it simply a wave of grief? How is blame related to forgiveness? Or the lack of it?
Truth is, I don’t know for sure.
The Shepherd’s Voice
But later that morning, in a steam-filled shower, I hear His voice inside my head. The shepherd calls my name and I recognize Him.
“They didn’t take your voice,” He says.
I know it’s true, this thing He says. They didn’t even know what they were doing. Not that they were completely innocent, no. But they could have no way of knowing how their actions in that situation would affect my body, my mind. They didn’t set out to torment anybody. It wasn’t their intent.
Instead, it was a chain reaction, a perfect storm of circumstances and events and personalities that led to an explosion of anxiety. . . one that left me reeling and — as one of its after-effects — too anxious to sing.
“They” didn’t take my voice from me. The enemy did. And he did it with an all-out attack of anxiety from which I’m still trying to recover. Trauma can take years to heal.
As I step out of the shower, a newfound clarity reveals this: so much of unforgiveness is placing the blame where it doesn’t belong. It’s a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.
They were wrong, the ones who hurt me. Yes, they were wrong. They made mistakes. They inflicted pain. People do it to other people all the time. Churches do it, too.
But they did not steal my voice from me. The accuser did. The one whom Peter says prowls like a lion, looking for someone to devour. The one who comes with a vindictive mission to steal, kill, and destroy.
What Is Your Name?
Over the Thanksgiving break, Eric and I watched the remake of the Roots miniseries on Hulu. I never actually saw the original series, so this one right near broke me with its savagery. Talk about reasons to blame.
But the single thread running throughout the entire saga is the idea of one’s name being a shield.
Kunta Kinte is beaten bloody as he refuses to renounce his name. Finally, at the point of near death, he lets go. He says his name is Toby, and he’s allowed to live. But his friend Fiddler reminds him that they can’t take his name from him. They can enslave his body, but they can’t enslave his mind unless Kunta lets them.
He urges Kunta to hold onto his name, to remember who he is and where he came from.
So this morning as I’m thinking of the enemy who assaulted me with a ruthless anxiety that ripped my voice from my lungs, I remember who I am.
Who Are You?
It’s so obvious now that I wonder how I couldn’t see it before.
You see, God gave me a name. Formed me in my mother’s womb, saw the days of my life before one of them came to be, knew how many precious hairs he intended to plant on my head, when those hairs would start to turn gray. He gave me a voice and the skill to use it. He named me, from the moment I released my first cry. “Songbird,” he said, as he beamed with pride.
It’s not all of who I am, but it’s one of my names, this: “songbird.” He gave me the gift of song, and no matter how any enemy tries to beat it out of me, it’s still my identity. It’s who I am. Nobody can steal it from me, because it’s how my Father named me.
God says, “Do not fear, no matter if you pass through deep waters or blazing fire. For I am with you. The waves won’t overcome you, the flames won’t consume you. Why? Because I have called you by name, and you are mine.”
Don’t Blame the Weapon
The One who knows me calls me. And He calls me by name.
“What can man do to me?” the psalmist asks. And my heart resonates with his.
It’s a step in the right direction, this recognizing that blaming the nearest target isn’t on the path of forgiveness. It’s like blaming the knife for the wound, instead of the one holding the knife.
I am healing, because the greatest Physician carefully continues to bind my wounds and make me whole. Holding on to blame doesn’t prove healthy, so on this day I let it go, let it wash down the drain along with the soap suds as I step out of the shower.
I dry off, clean and refreshed, and I step into a new day, remembering my name.
And I come away with this thought for you: pay close attention when those old wounds come back to haunt you. Notice where you tend to place blame. Now think on it and see if there’s a part of the big picture you’re missing.
Most of all, remember your name.
Don’t let the accuser steal it from you. Remember who you are, and listen for the voice of the one who made you. He has come to give you life overflowing. Your outside circumstances may seem bitter and overwhelming. The ubiquitous “they” can hurt you. They can “kill the body, but not the soul.”
So carry on brave warrior. Hold on to your name, your belovedness in Christ. Hold on to truth.
And that blame you’ve been carrying around so heavy on your weary heart?
Well, let it go sweet child. It’s time.
Just let it go.
You might also like:
Resources for exploring forgiveness:
(Amazon affiliate links)
The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
Rising Strong by Brene Brown
Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall
I haven’t read this one yet, but my friend Aaron gave it a glowing recommendation so it’s on my to-be-read shelf!