nouwen on forgiveness

Some stuff converged, my tired brain sputtered into gear, and I'm now on kind of a theology kick (in case the Bonhoeffer stuff didn't give that away). Part of my self-imposed theology overdose is a subscription to the daily meditation from the Henri Nouwen society. Each morning -- or maybe it's just weekday mornings...quite frankly, I'm too tired to notice -- I get a little email with a piece of Nouwen in it. 

Have you read much Henri Nouwen? He's like totally dreamy. My friend Angie introduced him to me several years ago when I was going through a particularly rough patch, and he's been one of my besties ever since. He's always got something new and relevant to add, and he does it in a way that challenges you without scolding you or coddling you. You should meet him. Here, I'll introduce you! This is what he told me the other day: 

Healing Our Memories
Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When we forgive a person, the memory of the wound might stay with us for a long time, even throughout our lives. Sometimes we carry the memory in our bodies as a visible sign. But forgiveness changes the way we remember. It converts the curse into a blessing. When we forgive our parents for their divorce, our children for their lack of attention, our friends for their unfaithfulness in crisis, our doctors for their ill advice, we no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over.
Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts. Forgiveness indeed heals memories.

See what I mean? Dreamy. And now I shall add my clunky thoughts and ruminations on my own navel.

Forgiveness is not something I think about often. It's one of those things that comes fairly easily to me, I think. Relationships are important to me, and I don't often find it hard to set aside past hurts, accept apologies, and move forward, restored. I do this maybe to a fault, becoming permissive and even complicit in really bad behavior, but ultimately my particular ability to forgive is something I see as a gift, and something for which I often thank God. Unforgiveness is destructive -- I've witnessed it, firsthand. It's destroyed families, it's ended friendships that once brought joy, and it killed my marriage

Divorce goes hand-in-hand with unforgiveness. Unwillingness to forgive is what often leads to the decision to divorce, and then as two people move through the divorce process they tend to dredge up old pain and inflict new wounds. It's just part of the process. Two people make vows, and then one or both of them breaks those vows. The act of divorce, in itself, creates a wound; bad behavior and clouded judgment just worsen it.

As I was reading about forgiveness, I entertained this brief thought of "I'm so glad I don't struggle with this. I don't need to forgive anyone -- I've already done it." Come on, Ashley. And then it hit me: I haven't forgiven myself for my divorce.

I don't really cry over my marriage anymore. Really the only time I get particularly emotional is when I think about my son, and how this divorce will affect him for the rest of his life. Being divorced feels like a failure -- specifically it feels like I've failed Gabriel, in the biggest of ways, before he was even born. It's been a hard thing to get past.

As I tried to share the depth of this feeling to a new friend the other day, I was met with encouragement. I don't remember the exact words (self-loathing makes it hard to hear, sometimes) but the message was something like this: "You aren't a failure. You're a person who's had some bad things happen, and look where you are now." And that's something I apparently needed to hear, judging by how it reached me. But there was something more, something left unaddressed. This little bit from Nouwen showed me what.

"We no longer have to experience ourselves as the victims of events we had no control over." 

Divorce isn't what I wanted, and because of that, it's felt like getting divorced is something that "happened to me" instead of something I specifically did. There's a deep feeling of failure in that. Maybe it's the sense of powerlessness that comes from being divorced. Maybe it has to do with my ultimate failure of choosing a partner*. Either way, feeling like a victim -- in this case, of my own stupidity -- is hand-in-hand with feeling like a failure.

But if I take all of three seconds to look around, it becomes obvious that I'm not a failure.  My son is healthy. He is happy. He's growing and engaging and he even pees on the potty occasionally (a fact I managed not to share with my friend at dinner but have not managed to excise from this blog post). I keep both of us fed, and 98% of the time it's not junk food. I dredge up enough work each month to get the bills paid. We have a small but beautiful place to live that is slowly...slowly...becoming our home.

Clearly I am not a failure. 

"Forgiveness allows us to claim our own power and not let these events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts."

Now I've got some work to do.

Have you ever been surprised by how hard it was to forgive someone or something? Is reconciliation important to you, or would you rather just cut and run? Who's your favorite theologian/philosopher/great thinker?

*Some people have criticized me for marrying so quickly, but the truth as far as I can see it is that we could have dated for years and I still would have chosen him -- the things that would have been red flags to me were a direct result of marriage and probably wouldn't have shown up beforehand. Maybe he would have chosen differently, but I don't know. We were both poor judges back then. 

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