Forgiveness -- what does it really mean?

10 years ago

The more I focus on spiritual health, the more I realize that the ability to forgive is a key part of that. But plumbing the depths of forgiveness in an attempt to really describe and understand it is a daunting task. It is one of those words used so easily. But it twists and turns around labyrinths of corners as we try to chase down a clear understanding.

The nature of forgiveness -- real and true forgiveness – can be elusive at times.

Is forgiveness something that erases a past act? What does it mean to forgive and not forget? Isn’t that like not forgiving at all? Is forgiveness absolute?

I found these quotes in my reading this past wek on forgiveness:

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
– Mahatma Gandhi

If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.
– Mother Theresa

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless.
– Mahatma Gandhi

Forgiveness is one thing when the offending party is absolutely sorry, willing to make amends and comes to us with humility and a desire to make things right. Working out what forgiveness means in that context can be manageable. At least an attempt to reach mutual peace is possible. But is that forgiveness – just mutual peace?

But what if the offending party is not sorry.

Do we need to forgive then? If so, what does that forgiveness look like? What is the “how” of that forgiveness in the face of imbalance? Insofar as forgiveness is something that helps us move on in life, isn’t forgiveness even more important when there is that imbalance? But how is it possible?

I don’t have a lot of answers here, so I turn to you all to help out, and invite you to share what you think/feel/believe about forgiveness.

Here is what I think I know about forgiveness. It is about not living out of the wound. It is about letting go of a past assault and not keeping it current. (Again, easier if the other party is sorry.)

Ginger says

It’s easy to justify our anger. It’s also easy to justify being unforgiving. The anger that festers never hurts the one who has caused the anger. When we carry the anger inside it becomes a living, breathing, monster. It feeds and grows. It is consuming. There resides in all of us a potentially destructive angry beast. There is only one tried and true way of eliminating that beast. Don’t feed it. Forgive.

And she is right. To not forgive is like swallowing slow acting poison. It may hurt us more than the one we do not forgive.

Kori, a single mom, talks about modelling forgiveness for our children:

Forgiveness and learning how to forgive others (and ourselves) is such a huge life lesson, I would like to think that we can give our children a "leg up" if we work on it ourselves and share what we have learned with our children. We can forgive the things that they might do, we can forgive our friends and families, exes, coworkers, etc. and share that with our children, and we can work on letting go and forgiving ourselves-all of these lessons can benefit our children. HOWEVER, there is a difference between forgiving and letting go and having messy boundaries and letting people walk all over us. In this way, we can be TOO loose, allowing people to take advantage of us.

This may be what forgiving yet not forgetting really means – the setting of reasonable boundaries after the forgiving is done. This is an important key when the person we forgive is not repentant. Forgiving does not, I believe, mean that we have to put ourselves n harm’s way over and over again.

Catherine Hilker talks about “Manifesting and Forgiveness”

It may seem strange to have manifesting and forgiveness together in the subject line. In my experience, hanging on to an old hurt, a perceived injustice, or any form of victimization, blocks the full potential of creating my desires. It’s as though I’m carrying around a heavy suitcase whereever I go. I take it to work, I bring it to social events, I even sleep with it. It weighs me down and is very draining. Over time, it even creates disease.

Angieangel’s Weblog speaks of the forgiveness of a mother – in court – to the man that killed her 9 months pregnant daughter. She speaks of the faith that sustains such forgiveness and adds this quote:

I sometimes wonder how to tell if you have truly forgiven someone. Then I found this quote. (it is not excusing the wrong that has been done, but gives a neat perspective)

“How does one know if he has forgiven?
You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage,
you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him.
You tend to have nothing left to say about it all.”
– Clarissa Pinkola Estes

One of the most moving sites that I encountered about forgiveness is the site of the Forgiveness Project which describes itself as :

The Forgiveness Project works at a local, national and international level to help build a future free of conflict and violence by healing the wounds of the past.By collecting and sharing people’s stories, and delivering outreach programmes, The Forgiveness Project encourages and empowers people to explore the nature of forgiveness and alternatives to revenge.

This site contains the stories of astonishing forgivers – people from all over the world who have found help, health and freedom through forgiveness. This site is endorsed by people such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Bono of U2 fame. Please visit this site and be inspired and moved.

Then come back and let’s talk about forgiving.

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