Who Forgives Whom?

Here I go again—trying to write a short blog on a topic suited for a book. I’ve taught classes on forgiveness, so I gained some insight. But that doesn’t mean I’m better than others at forgiving–I’m not. Two short stories for you, one related to the other.

First, as I was listening to a minister talk to his congregation about topics to teach in adult classes, he rattled off some that he thought his flock might struggle with. A few hands went up with each topic, until he mentioned forgiveness. I looked around to see two-thirds of them requesting instruction on forgiveness.

I taught the series of classes. To those people, this was the topic most of them wanted to deal with. I suspect that it was the most important.

forgiveness4Then, as I was teaching and near the conclusion of that class, one man asked, “Do I need to forgive Madalyn Murray O’Hair?”

I looked at him as I ran snarkastic comments through my mind, working on being kind to those who might have missed the point.

I said, “She was an atheist who died a tragic death about ten years ago. Why would you need to forgive her? Did she harm you?”

He said, “She took prayer out of our schools.”

If standing and glaring while trying to maintain composure sends a message to the rest of the class, that’s what I did. I scratched me head, hoping to end this soon. Insulting and vulgarities seemed inappropriate to the church venue.

I responded, “Well, I feel certain that Madalyn could not care less. She never had power to remove prayer from public schools, but the Supreme Court did. However, that case was not hers. Official, sponsored prayer had been voted to be unconstitutional two years before her case was decided. Hers involved her son and forced bible reading. Do you want to make a list of the Justices who decided that case so you can work on forgiving them? You don’t need to forgive her. But I think you should know exactly what it is that you are not forgiving her for.”

I don’t know what he was after, or if I was as condescending as I felt. Maybe he was wanting to discuss people that we might all have trouble forgiving. Hitler was and is still available, if we want to include the dead.

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When I’ve harmed others and I feel remorse, I’d like to be forgiven. I realize such forgiveness is not a dismissal of my behavior. For that, I’ll always be responsible. When I’m forgiven, the personal relationship may be open to reconciliation. While it’s forever changed, the relationship may be worth saving. If so, the burden is mine.

When I’ve been harmed, I don’t need the person who wronged me to want forgiveness. They need not apologize, although that helps considerably. I do need to know exactly what they did that requires forgiving. I’ve learned that forgiveness has no easy on-off switch. I must want to forgive; then I must begin the process of forgiving.

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Forgiveness may take considerable time. But forgiving gives me a personal freedom and comfort that I enjoy, not to mention it frees my mind for other uses. Forgiving doesn’t mean that the transgression wasn’t serious or damaging. If it happens again, discernment trumps forgiveness. I want to forgive because it’s good for me. Any benefit to the transgressor is supplementary to my own.

I am not preaching forgiveness. I’m advocating happiness. We don’t need to forgive everyone or everything. In the link here, are several articles on the mental health advantages of forgiveness. They also warn about some issues with forgiveness. There may be advantages to not forgiving in cases of sexual abuse, since anger and a demand for justice seem to empower victims. I’ll add victims of spousal abuse for similar reasons. There may be other situations where forgiveness needs to wait.

Finally, there must always be justice. We strive for life to be fair. When Pope JPII went to forgive the man who shot him in an assassination attempt, they hugged and the Pope made is forgiveness known. Then, the Pope left, leaving the man to complete his prison sentence.

 

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The power of forgiveness rests with, and benefits most, the person wronged or harmed. Forgiving does not mean it was ok. If we can get on with our lives and rise above harmful difficulties, we can find relief and maybe happiness.

May we all find the strength and wisdom to move toward forgiveness when and where it’s wise and we’re able.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Look both ways.

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9 thoughts on “Who Forgives Whom?

  1. Ach, that’s a toughie. Beautifully laid out, makes an appalling amount of sense, yet I keep thinking, but but but…

    Carefully, for the sake of argument, perhaps, where does the line fall between forgive and not-forgive? It would seem that the person being forgiven should at least understand that there was an infraction of the ‘do no harm rules’ that hurt someone else. I would add in to that list, child abuse.

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  2. IMO, forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves; the act of letting go of past hurts that morph into anger, resentment and even hatred that poison our lives. We forgive to free ourselves and move forward. Thank you for another insightful post on an important topic.

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  3. I don’t like to suffer and I let most things go pretty easily. I’m also one who forgets easily which unburdens my desire to dwell on the topic of forgiveness. The main thing that matters to me is God’s forgiveness. If someone asks me to forgive them for a wrong they’ve done to me then it’s difficult for me to hang on to my burden and not forgive them. When asked I’ve always forgiven and let the past wrongs go (though as you say, with a wariness concerning future interactions and even that will dissipate if no further wrongs come from that person).

    When I recognize that I’ve wronged someone for whom I care a great deal, I’m anxious to ask their forgiveness or say that I’m sorry in order to preserve a relationship I value. I don’t like things hanging in the air that might result in further negativity. The world is filled with enough of that now.

    Knowing that I can’t change the past means that I must move on in order to make a better future. When others want to drag me into past grief, I’m willing to be a sounding board for as long as I comfortably can, but I’m also going to try everything I can to put a positive spin on the situation.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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