Healing from Trespass:
A Devotional Series for Survivors
Forgiveness (In the Face of Violence or Transgression)
And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.
-Matthew 6:12, NRSV
All of us have been wronged in relationships. Sometimes the stakes, regarding our health or safety, are high. When trespass involves violence or abuse—sexual, physical, or emotional in nature—our very selves and well-being are at risk. Many individuals in the United States and across the world experience varied forms of trauma in relationships. This is especially true for women and woman-identifying individuals, as well as those who fall into the categories of sexual and gender minorities. To just give one example: “Twenty-three [percent] of female undergraduate university students reported having experienced sexual assault or sexual misconduct in a survey across 27 universities in the United States in 2015. Rates of reporting to campus officials, law enforcement or others ranged from 5 to 28 percent, depending on the specific type of behavior.” (2) The problem is even more widespread than our statistics could tell us; and it affects all identities. When our ‘debtors’ trespass against us, the transgressions can range from micro-aggressions, to harassment, to someone letting us down, to bullying, unkind words, or often something much more sinister and difficult to process, as we see in the example above.
Whether or not our broken relationships are the result of violence or other forms of betrayal, we are called, somehow, to live in forgiveness. This gets tricky in the case of abuse and does not negate the need for reporting such crimes, going to the relevant authorities for help, or engaging with therapeutic resources that can also aid us on our path to healing. The primary question, for our purposes here, is “What do we do, spiritually, in order to live in freedom, after (and while) we take those necessary steps?”
Nadia Bolz-Weber, founding pastor of House for All Saints and Sinners in Denver, CO, points out that “When someone else does us harm, we’re connected to that mistreatment like a chain.” What do we do to combat the negative connection, so that we might heal? Bolz-Weber lends an answer that we also see reflected in the Bible passage above: “[Forgiveness] is not an act of niceness,” she states: “Forgiveness is nothing short of an act of fidelity to an evil-combatting campaign.” (3) She goes on to say that retaliation and holding onto resentment both feed, rather than combat, the evil that created the wrong in the first place; she warns that we may start to absorb the attitudes of our enemies, by hanging onto resentment and anger, rather than by starting to forgive. (4)
Anger is a necessary step in our process of grief, yet we must move beyond it, so that we may be “free people,” in Bolz-Weber’s words, uncontrolled by the past. Forgiveness is not the condoning of abuse; it is the beginning of our path toward wholeness after a trespass, our “bolt-cutters” to further sever our connection to the trespass. It all starts with a prayer.
Giver of Life, thank you for the immense blessing of life on this earth. Embolden and empower us to take the steps necessary to live in greater freedom and joy and to build a life that fully reflects the abundance out of which you created us. Calm our fears and ready our hands in prayer and action, on behalf of ourselves and others. Let us live as free people, trying to forgive and cut the power that trespass or the past has wielded over us. Thank you that you are able to do this and more than we could ever imagine, simply because we are beginning by asking.
Meditation: Pray the Lord’s Prayer as part of your daily practice this week
Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
-Matthew 6: 9-13 NRSV
Please find Pastor Bolz-Weber‘s full video on forgiveness, here (Attn: language):
If you or a loved one have experienced or are experiencing violence or trouble in a relationship, there are many local resources ranging from counseling services to domestic violence shelters that are there to be of aid to you. Domesticshelters.org is a national database that can use your zip code to locate counseling, shelter, and intervention services in your area. If you are in any danger or are being hurt in any way, shape, or form—make the phone call to the relevant authorities or services. Even if you have a desire to simply live in healthier relationship with a partner or others in your life, I encourage you to engage the resources available to you personally and in support of the survivors in your life.
(2) Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Forgive Assholes,” YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhmRkUtPra8.
(3) Bolz-Weber, “Forgive Assholes.”
(4) “Now to [God] who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,” Ephesians 3:20, NRSV.