The Case for Forgiveness

 In this week’s article we continue to look at some of the myths that may interfere with our ability to Forgive( Myths 9 - 13 are relisted below). If you have other myths that you believe are stumbling blocks please mention them in the comment box.  



               "Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”                                

MYTH 9.  Forgiving or asking for forgiveness is a sign of weakness.   This is another myth that can result from being forced as a child to apologize when we are NOT sorry.  This short cut which parents take to smooth over hurt feelings and settle differences can result in a child feeling like forgiveness is something you say and do not mean.  It can also come from attributing false power to a person who hurts us.  Forgiving or asking for forgiveness takes self-knowledge and strength of character. 

MYTH 10. People who love each other don’t have to ask for forgiveness.  ”Love means never having to say ‘I’m sorry”” is a much quoted line from the old movie “Love Story.”  The exact opposite is true.  Closeness between two people exposes one to the other’s sensitivity and petty self-indulgences. It is the trivial that has the power to drive us crazy. This happens in marriages, families, close friendships and communities such as churches and schools. Often the offender is completely unaware of the offense. Over time the build-up of trivial slights can lead to a break in the relationship.  Asking for and granting forgiveness means we stop judging the other and communicate with trust and love.   

MYTH 11.  I can’t forgive until I know that the other person is really sorry and won’t ever do it again.    It is natural to want an acknowledgement of the hurtful person’s awareness of injuring us, but we can’t expect them to be mind readers.   Expecting an apology because you are sure “they know what they did” is to set oneself up for and endless round of hurt and recrimination.   Telling the person in a spirit of love and non-judgement allows them to say I am sorry.  But you have to be prepared for the fact that the other may have different values and may see the situation in a different light and/or respond with denial.  If your truly non-judgmental, you will accept the other’s view even though you may find it hurtful and you believe it is wrong.             Expecting a person to change and never hurt you again is to hold him to a higher standard than anyone can achieve,  Remember God knows that we will sin again, but does not withhold forgiveness for our sins.  

Myth12.  My offender is dead; I don’t need to forgive him.  If you are still rehearsing the hurts of long ago, then you continue to re-victimize yourself.  Doing the work of forgiveness helps to release you from these obsessions and frees you to live a fuller and more peaceful life. 

Myth 13. I have cut off all contact with my offender and therefore don’t need to forgive her.   Just as in the case of the offender who has died, if you continue to feel hurt by events of the past, you are the only one who can free yourself from this pain.  forgiveness is not reconciliation nor is reconciliation a necessary part of forgiveness.   You need not have an active relationship with the offender in order to forgive.

          When another person injures us, whether intentional or not, it fundamentally damages our faith in the worthiness of others.   We experience this as a loss, the degree of loss depending on the closeness and importance of the person in our lives.   In a great injury, something is broken psychologically and spiritually and even, sometimes physically.  The break erodes our sense of well-being, corrupts our experience of our worth and fragments our sense of control over our own lives and emotions. The injury cracks into our childlike belief that “good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people”,  that good people thrive and bad people are, or should be, punished. 

          This reasoning leads to the belief that we are bad unless we vilify the perpetrator in order to label them “bad”  and label us “good.”   We demand admissions of guilt. We seek revenge or at least some reparation as way of justifying the pain we have received. We do this despite the reality that there are some wounds for which there can never be enough payment to balance the injury. 

          Forgiveness is not about justice.   To link forgiveness and justice is to limit our capacity for forgiveness.  It is to give over the ability to heal our wounds to a system outside ourselves.  To join the two is to condemn the wounded to a life devoid of healing. 

          To link the two also defines the persons who can not be forgiven.

In cases where we are hurt by criminal activity, even if the perpetrator is caught and brought to trial, convicted and sentenced, the relief that is felt is often short lived as the wounded one still carries the loss that occurred.   If the accused is not convicted, then the victim feels doubly wounded and abandoned by society.  This places the wounded in the role of judge and jury who must decide what the conditions are for forgiving the other.  Often there is no way to really determine whether those conditions have been met.  Years go by and the wounded are still wounded without sufficient resources to seejustice served.  There can be no healing.  

          When the writer found herself in this position, she looked for ways to free herself from the pain she felt, believing that it was the wrong done to her that caused that pain.  Only when she realized that the person who had injured her had moved on with his life and that she was the one who continued to suffer did she begin to pray for release from the suffering.  The answer to that prayer came in the form of a wise counselor who showed her that the powers needed, the power of forgiveness, had been given to her by the Grace of God, that was her birthright through her Baptism.  She had only to let go.  Let go of hatred, the desire for revenge, the desire to see the other person punished, the desireto see the other person suffer and the need for an apology or admission of guilt.  She had only to let go of these desires, she only to forgive.   

          “Only”  let go!!!  If that is what it required I felt doomed to carry this load for the rest of my life.  But gradually through counseling and study I learned the truth of this statement and the steps necessary to achieve it. 

          We need to forgive in order to heal the wounds in ourselves.  True forgiveness of a great wrong is an act of a mature personality.  True forgiveness dissolves the clear distinction between perpetrators and victims, between self and other.  It is the ultimate act of compassion.




          In the next section of this article we examine the Process of Forgiveness.

While steps in the process are easy to name, the actual “process” can be difficult long, painful, and arduous.   It is sometimes helpful to “journal” thoughts and feelings,  talk to a trusted friend or counselor or even gather a group of like-minded friends who will share in this process with you.



Reply to Mickey:  I agree that anger is not the only response to being wounded.  However I believe that anger is at the root of hardening the heart to forgiveness that makes us suffer.


Do others have ideas on this topic?  More questions?