It seems impossible that a woman, who had been repeatedly raped and left for dead, could ever rebuild her life in the same community as her perpetrators. And how could her perpetrators live in peace, being reminded every day they see her, of the atrocities they committed against her? How could her child conceived from this crime face his neighbour, should he learn of the circumstances surrounding his conception?
In an attempt to rebuild life after the appalling horrors of the 1994 genocide, Rwandan’s on all sides of the injustices are realizing they need the power of imbabazi in order to heal. Imbabazi (pronounced im-bah-bah-zee) means forgiveness.
English writer and journalist, G.K. Chesterton said this of our western view of forgiveness. ‘The Christian ideal of forgiveness has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.’ For sure, anyone who has ever been offended finds the concept of forgiveness a challenge to embrace. Yet, in Rwanda, the healing property of imbabazi is proving to be a therapeutic intervention capable of overcoming the deepest of emotional and relational wounds. As Meg Guillebaud explains in her book ‘After the Locusts’, Rwanda is experiencing how costly forgiveness is restoring their lives.
The truth is forgiveness is not cheap. It is painful and it has agonizing conditions including strict restraints around what it is and is not.
Forgiveness is not……
- Saying it doesn’t matter. What happened matters. It was devastating and life changing. Forgiveness never minimizes what happened.
- Pretending it doesn’t hurt. Repressing pain is not a healing strategy. Forgiveness cultivates the hope of emotional and relational freedom even while experiencing pain.
- Something to be commanded. It is not a moral obligation. We choose to forgive out of gratitude for the times we have been forgiven.
- Forgive and forget. We will never forget our personal history, but when we forgive, the perspective of our history changes.
- Excusing others. Forgiveness does not absolve moral responsibility or consequences. Wrong is always wrong even if you’re forgiven.
- Automatic reconciliation. Forgiving someone does not mean that person has access into your life again. Trust and safety might need to be restored, which takes time.
- Refusing to take revenge. When we forgive, we cut the emotional ties that want the other to ‘get what they deserve’ confident that vengeance rests in the hands of God.
- A daily act of the will and not the emotion. We rarely feel like forgiving. It takes tremendous courage to make the decision to keep no record of wrong.
- Facing reality. Denial or glossing over the truth will never result in forgiveness. It takes the acceptance of reality to truly forgive what has happened.
- Accepting ourselves. Self-blame can cause us to feel that somehow we deserved what happened to us. Self-acceptance plays a role in true forgiveness.
- Recognizing God’s love and justice. It’s part of human nature to feel hatred and revenge. True forgiveness opens our eyes to love and justice beyond normal comprehension.
Rwanda continues to recover from the unspeakable wounds of the genocide. By their remarkable example, we could reason that, imbabazi, once tried can be found sufficiently capable.