Friday, November 19, 2010

Can Youth (and Youth Workers) Experience Total Forgiveness?

I just finished reading the book “Total Forgiveness” by R.T. Kendall. Kendall offers an interesting perspective having grown up in the hills of Kentucky and serving the greater part of his life as the pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London, England. The vast array of cultural divides and experiences he faced obviously drove him to write a book on this topic.

We live in a world of turmoil and while forgiveness in mentioned I find myself often wondering if it is actually experienced. In working with young people I often am privy to information that tears at my confidence in humanity. Abuse, sexual exploitation, violent crimes, relationship abuse, lies, anger and hatred that move far beyond what may be typically referred to as teenage drama.

What surprises me most is the nonchalant attitude that most of these teen and young adults hold toward their despairing set of circumstances. Yet I think if I were to take a stab at what is really going on, my guess would be that they are scared more of confronting what has become of them and they find it easier to simply roll with it. If they try to find healing they will only be hurt more the next time.

The problem is that I know it isn’t sustainable. I know this because I will find myself struggling through the issues that they wont let go of. It is as though you have a conversation with someone that the rail road tracks are an unsafe place to play, but after the conversation they go straight back to it. This is one of the most difficult things to deal with in youth work. You care so much that you can almost begin to resent the fact these young people continue to put themselves in harm’s way and find the healing that you know is within their reach.

I found myself learning as I went through the pages of Total Forgiveness. Kendall’s words reflected this often pondered but rarely practiced Christian discipline of forgiveness. The names and faces of many individuals passed through my heart and mind as I wrestled with the concepts that Kendall was offering in his book. Realizing that I had been trying to teach a concept to young people that I was wrestling with myself was a good and humbling reminder to me. There is no way I can help young people to step into true forgiveness if I am unwilling to do so in my own life or even with them.

In good fashion R.T. creates a list of what his definition of “total” forgiveness is as well as what it is not:
  1. It is not approval of what they did
  2. It is not excusing what they did
  3. It is not justifying what they did
  4. It is not pardoning what they did
  5. It is not reconciliation
  6. It is not denying what they did
  7. It is not blindness to what happened
  8. It is not forgetting
  9. It is not refusing to take the wrong seriously
  10. It is not pretending we are not hurt

Many people young and old alike refuse to look at forgiveness as a viable option because they have a specific view of what forgiveness means. If the above list can be understood correctly maybe more of us would be able to move toward forgiveness more often. The question remains though – if it is not any of those things what is forgiveness?

  1. It is being aware of what someone has done and still forgiving them
  2. It is choosing to keep no record of wrongs
  3. It is refusing to punish
  4. It is not telling what they did
  5. It is being merciful
  6. It is being gracious
  7. It is an inner condition
  8. It is the absence of bitterness
  9. It is forgiving God
  10. It is forgiving ourselves

That is a difficult list. I won’t deny that there are things on there that seem next to impossible even it is not a big issue that we are talking about. Someone may have glared at me from across the room and I will want to make sure I give them an equally deserving one back. As the painful circumstance rise – it only gets harder. You may have adverse reactions to these lists, but I have not included the whole of Kendall’s explanation. You may want to pick up the book to see his justifications, exceptions and explanations for each item.

I liken this need for forgiveness in much the same way as planning an escape from prison. Every detail must be thought out or you will quickly end up worse than before. However nothing would taste as sweet as the freedom experienced after being wrongfully imprisoned. When I think about how many children, teens and young adults are sitting in the shackles of hurt and resentment I long to free them, but I realize that I can’t force them out of it. They have to want to be free. In the meantime I must not judge them for that but bless them where they are at and hope. What more can I do?
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