Forgiveness is the trail we walk to the summit, where love resides. At some point in our lives, most likely many times, we will be challenged to forgive. This might be a very personal type of forgiveness, one person to another, or it may be less personal, toward a group, a kind of idea, or toward the universe, or God, or the nature of things. We could be angry at a family member, or angry at the way things are because we have a disease or health issue. Whatever the specifics might be, we will feel so many different things- anger, confusion, defensiveness, isolation, sadness, fear, victimization - and all these things will tempt us to get caught in a cycle where these destructive forces will reinforce themselves and drive us further into helplessness and pain.
When we're mired in a lack of forgiveness, a lack of acceptance of what is, rather than what we want to be, it is like someone has told us of the summit of the mountain, yet it is obscured by clouds. So, we toil in the valley, in what we know and can see, never taking those first steps along the trail that will lead us to real and lasting peace. Sure, we can run around the valley making temporary arrangements to satisfy ourselves, but there, we’ll always be at the mercy of the whims of the great mountain. Floods, avalanches, rock slides...try as we might, we will never really find what we’re looking for there.
Each time we practice forgiveness, we take steps along the trail leading to the summit, to the love which transcends even forgiveness -
1 Corinthians 13
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
At the summit, we are still aware of all the things we experienced prior, in the valley, along the trail, but we are no longer blinded by those things, encumbered by those things. Our existence, and our perspective, have been transformed.
Forgiveness leads us to this transcendent experience of love by slowly breaking down the barriers that make us all appear to be disconnected, separate entities. As we experience each trial, and choose to forgive, we begin to feel more and more connected to others, even others who have done wrongs to us. Going with life, rather than against it, begins to be more natural. Slowly, our sense of being cared for, guided, connected without trying, replaces our former neurotic need to fight, defend, act, control, understand. Our steps along the path are leading us out of a place of victimization and into a higher perspective of letting go, seeing how we are connected to the entire landscape of our lives.
The bible says that we are to embrace our trials, our sufferings-
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Each step on the path, each time we choose forgiveness, to take another step toward the summit, we become stronger, more encouraged, with a new perspective and renewed hope that we will reach the summit. Even though, while on the path, as we are going through our trials, it will be difficult at times to remember where we are going, faith must guide us further. As anyone who has climbed a mountain, large or small, can tell us, we can never predict everything we’ll experience on the path. The only thing we know is that if we stop taking steps, the journey is over. If we give up on forgiveness, we are lost.
How is love different than forgiveness? In forgiveness, we are still on the path, still climbing, still seeing a path, and a summit. We still see, in forgiveness, ourselves as a separate person who forgives another separate person or thing. When we reach the summit, when we look out at the majestic view that is the culmination of all those single steps, we have an overwhelming sense of the oneness of things, their interconnectedness, a vast perspective we formerly never knew. Words don’t do the experience justice.
In a similar way, love is an experience of the interconnectedness of ourselves with people, things, we formerly saw as needing forgiveness, as separate. We can identify with others in the same way we identify ourselves. We can understand the imperfections and failures of others in the same way we understand our own. When we allow love, we are at the summit, aware of everything, still part of everything, but free of the tribulations of the valley.
Although, while we are struggling it is so hard to see the value of suffering, it is our promise that suffering is not our fate. We are not meant to toil in the valley of life forever, nor exhaust ourselves on the path with no hope of reaching the summit. Our promise is love, saving grace through faith. If you’re struggling, to forgive, to find meaning, just to live, take even the smallest step, without living the entire path at once, and have faith in what lies just beyond what you can see with your eyes.