Testimony, January 23, 2011
By Georgette Kelly
I don’t mean to brag. But I am really good at forgiveness. I like to think it’s my background in theatre and storytelling—I have had specific training in imagining characters, walking in their footsteps, understanding the forces that cause them to hurt other people. I like to think that with enough insight, and enough time, I could forgive anyone for anything.
For example: If I love you for years, and put your needs before mine, and support you through the most difficult times of your life… And then you break my heart with no explanation? I’ll be angry. And I’ll be hurt. But just tell me where you’re coming from, and give me a year or two—I’ll forgive you.
If you look me straight in the eye, knowing that I am a queer Christian, and tell me that gay people are going to hell? I’ll need a good rant, and a good cry, and a lot of distance. It won’t be easy, and I might not even like it. But just hint about who has excluded you in the past, who instilled this judgment in you, and give me enough time—I’ll forgive you.
I have the forgiveness routine down pat. So, this fall, when Rebecca Anderson asked if I’d be willing to lead storytelling workshops about forgiveness in small groups, I thought it was a perfect fit.
I was originally scheduled to come in as a guest leader for one night. I would lead the group in a storytelling process, just as I’ve led many other groups of youth and adults in other contexts. Then I would leave the group to continue on their own.
But after my workshop, I couldn’t leave. I wanted to come back the next week. And the group’s leaders graciously accepted me as a new member.
What is it that compelled me to stay in the group, to carve out time from my stressful weekly schedule? First, I felt so welcomed by the small group members who shared their stories with me. I felt called to continue the journey with these new friends. But most of all, in this small group, God taught me something about my capacity for forgiveness: Yes, it seems I can forgive anyone for anything. But I can’t forgive myself. Ever. For anything.
I am extremely hard on myself. I don’t know why, exactly. It might have to do with gender. Being brought up as a girl, I’ve been taught to accommodate others at my own expense. Or it might have to do with being queer. I have internalized the idea that something is wrong with me. Or it might have to do with perfectionism. In a culture of perfection, I‘ve been taught that fault and weakness are acceptable in others—but I must always be perfect. Whatever the cause, the effect is dangerous. I hold grudges against myself for years and years. I pick at old scabs. I have deep anxiety. I punish myself for tiny faults that others have long forgotten.
For me, the most radical aspect of God is forgiveness. God says I am forgiven. I am already forgiven. I am forgiven even if I refuse to forgive myself—especially if I refuse to forgive myself. So, maybe I should stop refusing. Why not learn to forgive myself, as God forgives me?
In the small group, my assumptions started to crumble. I started to wonder: if I haven’t forgiven myself, have I really forgiven other people? Maybe it works like love. If I don’t feel love for myself, am I fully equipped to love others?
Forgiveness is a kind of transformative love. By seeing the places that we are broken, and accepting them, we are practicing love. We are practicing forgiveness. We are reconciling our imperfect circumstances with God’s perfect call to love and forgive, even to love and forgive ourselves. This is a process that changes us.
It is also a process that takes time. Months. Years. Sometimes, a lifetime. But I’m hopeful that, given enough time, I’ll even forgive myself. As I continue this journey of self-acceptance, I’m also hopeful that I’ll find a deeper level of forgiving others.
In this community of faith with a mission to love all people, God is calling us to support each other in the journey of forgiveness. The journey is messy and uncomfortable, and our assumptions may crumble. But God calls us to lean into the discomfort in order to be transformed.
I truly hope that you will join me this winter in one of the small groups about forgiveness. As you have heard, participating in this small group has transformed me. It has helped me recognize the Holy Spirit’s life-giving forgiveness. It has pushed me, in spite of myself, to listen for God’s calling. I can’t predict the impact the group will have on your life, or on the life of our church. But I can testify that my life has been changed, and that I am grateful.
Thanks be to God.