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Forgiveness: A Different Question

by Vicki ThornI’ve been speaking recently at several retreats for women, which have prompted a lot of thinking on my part about the issue of forgiveness. As we grow older, how do we deal with the terrible hurts that have happened in and still haunt our lives? How do we learn to forgive – a choice, which, done with the help of God’s grace, sets us free?Undoubtedly we are wounded, and too often by circumstances beyond our control. We think: My mother was inattentive and emotionally absent. My father abandoned our family. Our family shattered during a divorce. I was sexually abused. I got pregnant. My boyfriend forced me to have an abortion. My spouse didn’t understand me, and so we had to get divorced. The list is endless, and many times there are multiple offenses we suffer.It is clear that forgiveness is what sets us free, and that when are able to forgive those who have offended against us, they no longer hold power over us. There is a process that needs to happen, and we need to ask for God’s grace to forgive. We humans do this poorly.But what dawned on me this time is how, in our woundedness, we also hurt others and cause the cycle to continue. Granted, this is often unintentional, as we are so absorbed by our own pain and struggles.   Yet when the unhealed pain in our life spills over, the wounds repeat themselves into the next generation.For example, the daughters of teenage mothers are likely to become teen mothers as well, as Maggie Gallagher notes in her book The Abolition of Marriage.Divorce also tends to perpetuate itself from generation to generation. Surveys from the National Opinion Research Center, for example, found that white male children whose parents divorced had a divorce or separation rate in adulthood that was 35 percent higher than for white male children who grew up in intact families. Daughters fared even worse: White female children whose parents divorced were 60 percent more likely to experience their own divorce or separation than a similar population whose families stayed together.The list goes on. Pedophiles are often victims of sexual abuse. One researcher of the origins of pedophilia found that nearly a third of pedophiles were sexually abused as children. Another pair of researchers came up with an even higher percentage – 60 percent. Lisa Cohen, Ph.D., who studies pedophiles and treats victims of child molestation, adds, “Of those who had been sexually abused as children, 30 percent reported having been sexually abused by women, which was interesting.”  Indeed, a friend of mine was sexually abused by her mother, who had been abused as well.It is my lived experience that abortion also runs in families.  So often I have heard the story of multigenerational abortion. One woman, while seeking healing after an abortion, told her mom what she did – only to discover that her mother had also had an abortion. When they went to speak to her grandmother about this, Grandma’s response was, “I hope you two know how lucky you were, because that right was denied me.” One can only wonder who Grandma didn’t want.In another event, a woman I know well was forced to have an abortion by her father, who he didn’t want their outstanding Christian family to be embarrassed by a wayward daughter. Some years later, that still-unhealed woman tried to insist that her daughter, who had struggled with infertility, abort her third child. The daughter did not follow her mother’s wishes, and perhaps the circle of woundedness ended through her courage!We don’t like to think about the fallout of our actions or ask ourselves how it is that the people around me may have been wounded. Yet I believe we need to take responsibility for the pain we have caused others and ask forgiveness of them. The children of divorce are hurt by the breakup of their family. The children abused by those who were abused are forever wounded. The mother who didn’t learn to mother from her mother may have left wounds in her children. Do you know anyone who has asked forgiveness of their former spouse for the role they played in the breakup?What would happen if we took stock of our life and asked forgiveness of those we have hurt? “I’m so sorry about how the divorce may have hurt you! Please forgive me!” “I’m so sorry I was an unavailable mother! I love you dearly. Please forgive me.” “I’m sorry I forced you to have that abortion. I had no idea what it would do to you. Please forgive me!”The man who forced his daughter to have the abortion died recently. I think she had forgiven him, but her father never asked of that forgiveness for himself. Instead, she had spent her life trying to please him and to be the “good daughter.” If only he had said “I’m sorry,” and allowed her to be set free!Who are we called to set free? Do it now before it is too late.pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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