Let’s just get right down to brass tacks and talk about that one thing we’re all trying to avoid, shall we?

You know what I’m talking about.

The dreaded “F” word. Forgiveness.

No doubt you’ve already heard from everyone who feels entitled to offer you advice that You Must Forgive Your Bully.

You must do it because it is the right thing to do.

You must do so because it is what God wants you to do.

You must do it because you will never be free until you do.

And that’s all true enough. But how, pray tell, is this properly done?

I mean, seriously. How do you forgive someone who has not asked for it, does not want it, and refuses to acknowledge that he or she has done anything that requires it? Someone who, in addition to refusing to repent, very likely will continue to compound the original damage with fresh onslaughts at every opportunity?

Someone, in short, who doesn’t deserve it?

How do you forgive that person? Because, let’s face it: If we’re talking about a bully here, we’re talking about someone who has a very slim chance of ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever EVER acknowledging his or her wrongdoing.

Or even remembering it, for that matter.

Well, I’ll tell you exactly how you’re going to forgive your bully: By the sweat of your brow, by the endeavors of your spirit, by the toil of your hands, and by undertaking the agonizingly slow work of remembering every painful detail of what happened, so that you know exactly what it is you are forgiving. Forgiving involves the excruciating process of looking every memory squarely in the face and calling it by its proper name, acknowledging and working through the painful emotions that are attached to those memories, and then in time, when you are ready, coming to terms with them.

And it’s not easy.

And it’s not quick.

And it’s not pretty.

And it’s not all neatly tied up in handy platitudes or convenient quotes from Scripture. No, you have to do it the hard, sweaty, gut-wrenching way. The one that makes you wonder, much of the time, if this can possibly be the right way to do it.

Yep. That’s the one. Don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.

So just to be clear that we’re all speaking the same language, let’s talk for a minute about what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not letting the other person off the hook. Denying the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, or minimizing or justifying the wrong, is cheating. And it’s not cheating the other person; s/he has everything to gain and nothing to lose by being let off the hook. The only person who is cheated by this cheap and easy style of forgiveness is you.

*  Forgiveness is not an inevitable path to reconciliation. Sometimes reconciliation is impossible if, as is often the case with a bully, the person refuses to cooperate in a meaningful discussion. In other cases, reconciliation might be inadvisable, if the person is likely to continue to do hurtful things.

* Forgiveness is not dependent on the other person changing. If you waited for your bully to see the error of his or her ways before you could forgive, more than likely you’d be waiting forever.

*  Forgiveness is not a rigid mandate from God that will result in your immediate banishment to hell if you fail to comply. Bullies are notorious for self-righteously quoting Scripture if it helps them intimidate their victims. For instance, this one’s popular: “Forgive or the Lord will not forgive you.” Luckily, God is bigger than that and can probably be persuaded to cut you some slack. Try praying something along these lines: “Lord, I’m working on it, and it is my intention to forgive. I’m just not there yet.”

*  Forgiveness is not a one-time deal. You may find yourself feeling as if you’ve finally been able to forgive, then remembering some nuance of a specific incident that you had not considered before, and having to work your way through the memories again from this heightened perspective.

*  Forgiveness is not linear. It proceeds along a complex, circuitous pathway with many twists and turns and has its own internal logic, which often is not entirely clear except in retrospect.

*  Forgiveness is not forgetting. This one is so important I’m going to say it again, because it flies in the face of what most of us have been told over and over. But it’s true: Forgiveness is not forgetting. In time, the painful memories do lose their power to wound you. I promise. They do. But they never go away. Ever.

Here, then, is what forgiveness is:

*  Forgiveness is hard work. If you have openly, easily, readily and rapidly forgiven someone whose behavior nearly ruined your life, there’s a strong possibility that you have opted for one of the options in the above list of things that forgiveness is not. Go back and re-read that list. If any one of those items sounds a little too close for comfort, you’ve still got work to do.

*  Forgiveness is a process. It leads you slowly, painstakingly, sometimes over the course of several years, toward a sense of peace and quietude within your soul that allows you to live at peace with what has happened to you.

*  Forgiveness is costly. It will cost both you and the other person something, but in all likelihood you may be the only one who recognizes what has been lost. For you, it requires giving up forever on the hope that things will ever be as they might have been, could have been or should have been. You accept the reality that the person is who s/he is, has done and will continue to do similar things in the future, and will never change. For the other person, it means that s/he will lose your trust for all time. It may be a loss that the other person never recognizes. But you will.

*  Forgiveness is complicated. You may have experienced multiple incidents of bullying, each of which has its own distinct nature and requires its own distinctive pathway to putting it in perspective. You may have tried to confront your bully and encountered a range of responses, some of which are helpful, some of which are not. You may have  some good memories of interacting with the other person along with the bad ones, which makes the betrayal more difficult to reconcile. And, there may have been more than one person involved in the bullying, with each one playing a different role: parents, teachers and other acquaintances who could have stopped it and either failed to protect you or out-and-out contributed to the bullying. And each of them may require a different kind of forgiveness.

*  Forgiveness is acceptance of things as they are. It means living with the knowledge that it could all happen again, and that you can survive and even thrive if it does. Because you’ve already done it once.

*  Forgiveness is a highly individual endeavor. No one can really give you much of a road map, because what worked for someone else might not work for you. It is always helpful to hear how others worked through their pain, but by no means must you feel obligated to follow someone else’s formula. The one that works for you is the one that works for you.

*  Forgiveness is hearing that still, small voice inside your head that says: “I believe I have now said everything I needed to say about this subject, in as many different ways as I needed to say it, and as often as I needed to say it, and I am now prepared to live with it on the terms that have become clear to me over the course of my talking about it.”

So then, you wonder, when will you get to that point?

There is only one answer I can rightfully offer.

You will get there when you get there.

© 2012 by Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.

Your turn

OK, readers. It’s your turn. What has been your experience with forgiveness? What was the most challenging thing you faced in trying to forgive your bully? What was most helpful?