Church Council on Justice and Corrections (CCJC) Part 2

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Church Council on Justice and Corrections (CCJC)

How the Church helped

Fr. Bob Poole

The story of Patrick’s recovery and healing from the trauma of the hideous assault on him shows many features that are important in the process of such recovery and healing.

Firstly, it is a process. The time span from meeting Patrick for the first time and us agreeing that the healing relationship had changed now to a mentoring one was something like 18 months. As Pat himself notes, sometimes we would meet once or twice a week, especially in the first few months of the prayer ministry, as it takes a while for a trust- relationship to be established between the prayer-counsellor and the counsellee. Only within that trust – relationship was Patrick able to face and talk about the worst aspects of his suffering.

Secondly, Patrick mentions the all-important question of forgiveness in the process of healing. As this is often a much-misunderstood concept, I usually spend some time explaining its importance for the healing of the individual. To begin with, forgiveness, like healing, is a process. It takes time to achieve fully. Why even begin such a process?

It is too often lost sight of by friends and family of the victim, to say nothing of the victim himself/herself, that holding unforgiveness against one’s offender, continues the outrage of their original assault, because it allows the continuance of strong destructive emotions of hatred, rage, bitterness, resentment, vengefulness and so on to boil inside of you. Eventually such reactions, if not dealt with in a healthy way, become mental and emotional strongholds that imprison one in a self-imposed jail of negativity, often leading to self-destructive behaviour and such psychological disorders as chronic-anxiety syndrome, depression, fear- and suspicion-driven neurotic actions, not to mention shame-based and self-rejecting, and self-condemning behaviours. In a way, the refusal to begin or even contemplate forgiveness continues the original crime long after the physical effects have healed.

But that said, it is important to understand and explain to the victim that forgiveness does not mean forgetting what happened, or pretending it doesn’t matter, or it really wasn’t so bad. It is not “letting the other person off”. It is simply deciding to no longer continue to be a victim to the offender. One moves from being a victim to being a victor, an over-comer. Patrick himself mentions in his testimony: “By not forgiving, I permitted the offender to have complete control over my state of mind including my emotional, spiritual and physical life. The poison was killing my spirit. I have now gained freedom and inner strength. … It has freed me up to become the person I am called to be. I am no longer a victim of life and have developed a closer relationship with God.”

It is usually impossible for a person to begin the process of forgiving by a truly heart-felt act of pardoning the offender. I emphasize to the person that forgiveness is firstly an act of the will, not the emotions. If one sees the destructive effects on oneself of not releasing forgiveness to one’s offender, then it is possible to make a decision and declare “I choose to forgive so-and-so” or “I am willing” to forgive them, or even “I want to want to forgive.” By continuously deciding to release forgiveness each time the memory of the offense arises, even if it is done while gritting one’s teeth, one allows the healing process to advance. Eventually, the heart “catches up” with the will, and one usually finds that it is easier to forgive “from the heart” more and more. But if one were to wait till one “felt” forgiving towards one’s offender, before beginning the process of forgiving, one might be waiting forever!

The third important aspect of the healing process is the willingness to recognize one’s own part in continuing the effect of the original offense, by holding onto resentment, bitterness, anger and hatred. This is often hard for the one offended against to admit that it does take a willingness to repent for these negative mindsets and renounce mental strongholds of hatred, anger and bitterness towards one’s assailant. Forgiveness and repentance are the twin prongs of the healing process, and together open up the heart to receive the healing power of God through his Spirit.

In many ways, Patrick was an ideal subject to receive the best from the healing process, due to his desperation to change his life, his willingness to face the awful things that had happened to him, and his readiness to release forgiveness to his attacker, and at the same time acknowledge how his anger and resentment had kept him in an emotional prison. So the process of healing moved forward relatively smoothly and straightforwardly, which is not always the case. But his testimony does serve to show how one can transcend even the most horrific crimes against oneself, if there is a desire to be set free, and a willingness to do all that is necessary to achieve this.

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