What is your definition of forgiveness?

A woman with glasses and braids standing in front of a wall.

This post is a reflection by guest blogger Chenele Shaw in response to Cranaleith’s recent retreat, “From Resentment to Hope: Forgiving Our Society.”

What is your definition of forgiveness?

This year I have struggled immensely with the practice of forgiveness. I knew what it was conceptually, but practically–is it actually possible? I’ve been pondering the idea of forgiveness being a release–the idea that forgiveness can not only free us from resentment, but destruction. The truth is that our lives stop belonging to us when we don’t forgive.

As a black Catholic woman, this year has been especially challenging. Forgiveness has been a topic that’s come up over and over again. How many times can black and brown people experience trauma and how do we respond? What’s the timeline for forgiveness? Will I ever feel the freedom I so desperately wanted? I had a tendency of being someone who held onto things that hurt me. I didn’t know who I was when I wasn’t in pain. That had been a practice of my entire life. I thrived in chaos and moments of peace scared me more than those of pain. So this year, although filled with trauma, became comfortable to me.

The amazing thing about basing our whole selves on painful experiences is that we disregard the power we already hold. There is a power that is God’s grace that each one of us has that allows us to do things we could have never imagined. Forgiveness is grace processed. It is release from the power of destruction. Forgiveness is the territory of liberation. We become agents of liberation, not only for ourselves, but for others–and that can change the world. We become the versions of ourselves that we may be uncomfortable with: The versions of ourselves that exist in freedom.

After the death of George Floyd, I grappled with my role in the church. I had stopped praying and attending mass. My connection with God was non-existent and I couldn’t conceptualize being an agent of liberation. The challenges of grappling with empty homilies and absent community sent me into a deep sadness. I thought to myself, “How can I possibly forgive those who perpetuate this sin of racism even in my beloved church?”

Resentment had made a home in my heart and my heart felt divided. I deeply desired to reconcile myself with God and my peers but wasn’t sure how to. The thing is that forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t the same thing, but forgiveness can help empower reconciliation not just between people, but between the divided parts of ourselves.

I have learned so much on my continuing journey of forgiveness. Cranaleith’s retreat, “From Resentment to Hope: Forgiving Our Society,” truly helped me gain new insight into how forgiveness is not only something that will offer me freedom, but something that is accessible to me. Through small group conversation and wonderful insight from trauma therapist and retreat facilitator Scott Hutchinson, I feel equipped to apply forgiveness to my life and begin my journey of healing.

Forgiveness is on a spectrum. Forgiveness doesn’t need to happen in the same minute, day, month or year, but God gives us the grace. Particular pains that I have dealt with are not outside the love of God, and rejecting the resentment I feel can and will reconcile me with God and my church that I deeply love. I reflect often on the words of Scott Hutchinson regarding forgiveness in the face of racial injustice: “In a gospel sense, forgiveness is practicing assertive love and offers us freedom. It is about recognizing the image of God somewhere in the worst offender. That love is committed to dignity and re-remembering all that has been distorted.”

Please pray for me, friends.
I will be praying for you!

A blue and white logo with the words statement of commitment from the board of directors. Chenele Shaw is a former youth minister and theology teacher. She recently began her graduate studies in marriage and family counseling. Visit Catholic Speakers of Color to learn more about Chenele!