Complexity Is Alright

I began a series on forgiveness a couple days ago. I'm exploring the four stages of forgiveness that Robert Karen sets forth in his book, The Forgiving Self, and how these stages relate to the Christian notion of forgiveness. Step One was "Acknowledge your anger / mourn your loss." Christians seem to have difficulty with this first step, moving onto forgiveness before any effort has been made to connect with feelings of anger or loss.

Step Two is not much easier. Karen encourages us to "allow oneself and others complexity of self." Essentially, we need to allow people, including ourselves, to be human. An individual human can be good and bad, beautiful and ugly, wonderful and awful all at the same time.

Karen describes the stark way infants see their world. There is the good world and the bad world. There is a good mama and a bad mama. The infant cannot reconcile the fact that these two mothers are actually the same mother, all the bad and good rolled into one complex package. As the infant grows, he or she realizes that there is only one mother who does good and bad things.

Like the infant, we must recognize that individuals are complex. Good people do bad stuff. Bad people do good stuff. There is no purely good or purely bad person on earth. It is important to allow for this complexity (in others and in ourselves) and stop believing that the caricatures we have of people fully represent who they are.

It is tempting for Christians to disown the "bad" in ourselves and villify it in others. We spend a great deal of time denying our ugliness and hiding it from our brothers and sisters in the church, ultimately, hiding it from ourselves. I would like to fully embrace who I am. I must embrace even the parts of myself that I would like to change because without the acknowledgment of who I am, I will never be able to become better.

So, we must allow ourselves and others to be more than cardboard cutouts. It becomes much easier to forgive when we realize that the person who hurt or offended us is still capable of good. This is especially important when someone close to us is the offender. We must remember that no matter how much they hurt us, they still love us.
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