Ever try to unpeel the center of a golf ball? My brother and I were not so good at sports, but what we lacked in coordination we made up for in geekiness, so this is one sports-oriented occupation that kept us busy for hours--when we weren't watching The Three Stooges for tips on useful sibling interactions. As a resourceful child who got a golf ball with a good chip in it, you could usually find some way to tear off the outer shell. When you reached the inner ball, you'd find it was compacted of a long wrapped strand of stretched rubber band stuff. Under what looked like hundreds of feet of wrapping was a core--my brother assured me it was filled with poisonous gas. I figured he was just trying to scare me. All you had to do was touch the surface of the rubber band ball and it would turn brittle and shred into bits, spinning and pinging and snapping the whole time as though it was alive with the tension that was packed into the golf ball when it was first formed.
The golf ball reminds me of a lifetime of small, repeated unhealed traumas. Each little event winds the rubber-band strand just a little tighter, makes the dimensions of the center just a little greater, adds just a little more weight to the entire center. Over and over, during a lifetime of repeated trauma, the tension builds. Stress affects our emotional lives, our ability to think clearly, our health and our ability to cope with physical pain. As the center grows through repeated events, our lives become ever more stressed as our attention is distanced from the inner core--the heart, where healing can take place.
One day some assault or trauma parts the outer shell from the ball and exposes the inner layer. Some events just remind us of others from long ago, making healing more complicated. The original wound that began all of our trauma is still there under all the spinning and pinging and snapping, but to get close enough to the core to do the healing, we have a lot of unwinding to work through.
Forgiveness is easier when we can empathize with our offender, but sometimes we can make no rhyme or reason of the actions of others. These offenses are the most difficult to forgive, and because we carry them longer, probably the most important.
If we're traumatized early enough and often enough, by the time we are adults, forgiving one single event may depend on years of work on forgiving hundreds of past events. To the man who asked, "Should I forgive my brother seven times?" Jesus answered, "Not seven, but seventy times seven." Maybe that's what Jesus was talking about.
Some things we forgive because we can. Those are easy. There are some things we forgive for our own personal growth. I'm much more selfish than I like to admit. In my life, there are some things I've forgiven just so my offender wouldn't have the privelege of keeping me out of the kingdom.
No matter why we forgive, it's good to let go of our past grievances: just to let go of the stress so we can break through to a deeper healing. We all want to believe God will forgive us; sometimes it's harder to believe God is willing to forgive our offender, too. God forgives exponentially.
Note to self:
Next time I am tempted to offend, try to remember that I may be asking someone to forgive me exponentially for something that seems to me like just one incident.
Disclaimer: They don't always use the same methods for making golf balls as they used to, so no matter how resourceful you are, I can't guarantee you'll have the same experience my brother and I had if you try to unpeel one.
I gratefully acknowledge the conversations with Rodney A. Ellis, Ph.D., whose understanding of the process of healing traumatic memories led in turn to this series of PTSD awareness posts.