Recently I was asked about finding joy in life. As I thought about this, I realized that at the core of joy is forgiveness, and I will explain what I mean.
Tragedy is part of our lives; we cannot escape it. We may suffer from a debilitating illness or live in pain from a careless accident or face financial ruin through our fault or that of another. Perhaps we were betrayed by someone we trusted, someone we loved. Whatever the circumstance, we stand on common ground through our tears and broken hearts.
How do we traverse injustice, affronts, or violations? Fundamentally, I believe we do so through forgiveness. And, Bishop Desmond Tutu offers the best description I have found. He says: Forgiveness … exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the degradation, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking, but in the end, it is worthwhile because in the end dealing with the real situation helps to bring real healing. In forgiving, people are not being asked to forget... Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what happened seriously and not minimizing it; drawing out the sting in the memory that threatens to poison our entire existence.
It is the last line that is so vital to our wellbeing. Until we do the challenging work of forgiveness, we relive the event, the pain, the affront over and over again through one circumstance after another. We see through the clouds of life and miss the magic because we are not free.
Emotions lead us to our unforgiveness. They are our road-map. Anger or rage, resentment, criticism, guilt, paranoia, fear are signs we may not have forgiven the injustice, or violation, or tragedy. We may not have done the hard work that Bishop Tutu says we must do.
As much as we stand on common ground in our tears, forgiveness is a journey uniquely designed for each of us to travel alone because it is about us and not about the offender. Only we can pull out the sting; no one can do that for us. When we have forgiven, we no longer react as we have in the past. We are at peace and therein rests our joy.