What started me down the path that eventually led to this blog was me preparing to give a hypothetical talk on forgiveness. As clear as day I thought I felt the Holy Spirit tugging at me, saying, “Matt, it’s time to tell your story.” But I haven’t talked about forgiveness at all here on this blog. Have I?
I don’t remember exactly what I was sharing with a friend, it might have been my anger issues. Regardless of what it was, his suggestion was that I just need to forgive. I thought to myself, ‘well, Matt, you’ve done that.’ I don’t harbor resentments against those that abused me. I certainly don’t wish any ill will on anybody. While it’s true that I think I’ve forgiven my perpetrators, I am still angry that I am stuck holding the bag, having to struggle dealing with the seemingly lifelong issues. Not sure how to “forgive” that. Ideas anyone?
Being victimized can leave the victim feeling powerless. But when we exercise our power to forgive our perpetrators, we give ourselves the gift of being able to begin to let go of the anger and resentment that we’ve likely been carrying with us for years or even decades. It can feel like a weight lifted off our shoulders. But I’ve found that forgiveness is not a onetime event, in spite of believing that it was. I have found myself having to forgive over and over. Which leads me to my next topic; what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not some magic cure that as suddenly as we forgive, everything is right with the world. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, despite clever sayings. Forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing behavior. Forgiveness doesn’t heal the damage that was caused us. It doesn’t make the consequences of our abuse instantly go away. No, we are still left to struggle with the outdated coping skills we developed to survive, still struggle with trust issues, anger issues, still have to face overwhelming guilt and shame, just to name a few. “Like scar tissue, the effects of sexual abuse never go away, experts say, continuing to influence victims in various ways, such as by contributing to drug and alcohol abuse, low self-esteem, divorce and distrust.” – Kathleen Megan.
Forgiveness does not release the perpetrator(s) of the obligation to make reparations. That’s an entirely separate topic. One thing is for certain, it’s a mistake to link forgiveness and reparations. You can forgive, as that is something you have the power to control. But you may never get reparations, as much as you deserve them, even if you try. Regardless, reparations is something you have no control over. I’m not saying don’t seek reparations, by all means do if you are so inclined. Just don’t let your recovery depend on it. It seems to me that a person with integrity would want to make the wrong right by making the appropriate reparations relative to real damages incurred. In fact, they have an obligation to themselves, to victims, and to a just society to atone for their sins.
But I believe we must find a way to forgive, so that we can move on to the next step in our journey of recovery. If necessary, perhaps we can break the forgiveness down into parts, so that it’s not so overwhelming. For example, ‘No, I’m not willing to forgive my perpetrator for (insert a particular abuse) but I can forgive my perpetrator for (re-insert the particular abuse).’ Another thought: perhaps humanizing our perpetrator(s) may help. For example, if the perpetrator was a parent, we could recognize that our parent is human and had their own issues they were struggling with. That parent did the best they could do, even if it was a shitty job. For me that has helped. This is not to justify their behavior. Forgiving the person is not the same as saying the behavior was okay in anyway. Abusive behaviors are always inappropriate.
Forgiveness can be much more complicated than this, and in fact may necessitate seeking counsel from another source. I don’t have all the answers.
I hope this helps.
Thanks for reading.
Wishing you much love and peace,
“Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” ― Mother Teresa
Pope Francis, I appeal you to meet the needs of survivors of clergy sexual abuse by making reparations commensurate with the damage, emotional or otherwise, caused to survivors. I have ideas on how to do this. If you can’t do this, then I respectfully ask, on behalf of the Church, you to stop receiving communion until such time that the Church does. Because until the Church does, it will not be in communion with the saints. Sincere contrition is meaningless without reparations in kind. Demonstrate to the world that the Catholic Church is catholic; that is, the Church Jesus established with Peter as the rock, the first pope; that the Church practices what it preaches.
Ps: Have words of encouragement or a testimony to share? Does/has this blog helped you in some way? Know of additional, valuable resources? Suggestions for topics? Post a comment or you can also send me a private message by using the “Contact” page on my website or message me on FB.
Consider sharing this blog with others. Victim/survivors of abuses, more often than not, carry this burden silently alone, not knowing how to deal with it or where to turn, but need hope. Loved ones and caregivers also need support. We never know who is or wants to reach out for help. This blog might be of help to caregivers and loved ones of abuse. Silence is deadly and if together we are able to help or save just one life, isn’t that worth it?
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‘You make the reality of what you and other victims have suffered so very clear, but we all need to know that it happened. People want to help, we want to speak up and reassure, but sometimes, we just don’t know how. We are learning, hopefully. God bless you and your journey to complete peace.’
Thank you for posting…Sharing intimate details is scary. Thank you for being so brave and for reaching out to others through this blog. I know much of your heart in this blog. Your openness and honesty is quiet beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
In reaching out to others, you are Christ’s hands. It takes courage and broad shoulders. I will continue to pray that the Holy Spirit guide those open hands into a thriving ministry…Don’t let yourself fail prey to discouragement. It may be your calling. God bless you!