The Courage To Forgive

I’m writing a book for my daughters with my thoughts on certain things in life they will deal with before it’s all said and done. Some of those things will be amazing, fun, and exciting. Some will be tough, maybe even excruciating, and will require them to drill down into their grit and courage to get through. Forgiveness falls into the latter category. Here are my thoughts on the topic.

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“My son and I wrote a book together called “Some Assembly Required,” and he said something in there: If someone forgives you, they have found the willingness to feel awful again, and to re-experience the injury you did to them. And then to find something greater than themselves that lets them say ‘Goodbye, let’s be done. And I hear your apology, your contrition, and I forgive you.’ That to me is so amazing. Maybe the most amazing thing is when somebody forgives me for a serious injury I’ve done them.” ~ Anne Lamott, author, from her Facebook post on 12/02/2014

Anne Lamott says Earth is “forgiveness school”. Human interaction is complicated and messy, and at some point in your life chances are you will need to forgive others or yourself, probably both. Forgiveness is the kindest, most generous thing you can do. It is also probably one of the hardest, depending on the size and intensity of the injury involved. But attempting to get there is worth the effort because forgiveness liberates and heals. You will know this with certainty when someone forgives you for an injury you’ve done them.

Forgiveness requires deciding to intentionally find compassion for the wounded, fallible, insecure human in each of us that causes us to do stupid, hurtful things in a selfish pursuit. If you can connect with the common humanity between you and the other person involved in your hurt, you will find peace.

Forgiveness is no favor. We do it for ourselves alone so we can move on with our lives. Otherwise, holding onto resentment and refusing to forgive ensures remaining emotionally stuck in the part of your life when the injury occurred. Righteous, all-consuming anger and blame is a giant, impenetrable wall that also confoundingly manages to devour life energy like a black hole. It corrodes from the inside. The only way to fully live is to forgive, let go of the pain, and move on (whether the person remains in your life or not).

Let me be clear, forgiveness doesn’t mean you condone what someone did. It means you accept the fact that it happened. It means you are trying to understand the contributing / mitigating factors. It means you are consciously refusing to allow the pain you experienced to become the prevailing force in your heart and mind.

Wonder what it looks like when you can’t? Think about the people you know. From time to time, you will meet someone bitterly clinging to pain and resentment of the past, eternally inhabiting the victim role. Perhaps they refuse to forgive, or maybe they are so stuck they can’t figure out how. Either way they are exhausting in their complete dedication to the pain associated with the injury, and this kills the spark of life. It renders people dead long before actual death.

There are three ways in which you may encounter situations requiring forgiveness. For example, maybe you will find that, without thinking of anyone but yourself, you go chasing external validation in a way that hurts someone you love and which deals a serious blow to their ability to feel safe trusting you again. And, even though you didn’t intend to hurt the other person, what you did definitely caused them pain. In this case, you must learn from your hurtful behavior and fully own it. You must apologize sincerely and amend your future actions so you don’t repeat the transgression, and you must earnestly work to regain that person’s trust.

You may ask the one you hurt for forgiveness, but whether or not they grant it is out of your control. Hopefully, they will. Regardless, you must change your own behavior going forward so the pain someone experienced at your hands and their willingness to try to trust you again are not in vain. This is called making a living amends, and you will do it because it is the right and honorable thing to do. You will do it because that’s what others deserve from you – respect, consideration, and trustworthy behavior.

Another way that forgiveness may play out in your life is when you find yourself in the position of needing to forgive someone who hurt you. In that case, if you forgive and decide you want to continue in the relationship, you must let what happened remain in the past. It must get smaller in your rearview mirror as you drive away from it. It’s okay to look back at your past periodically and let it inform your present, but resist the urge to stare.

If you say “I forgive you” but continue to be suspicious of and check up on someone after a reasonable period of time that they’ve shown they are behaving in a trustworthy way which shows they learned from the mistake and don’t wish to repeat it, you are holding onto what happened. You aren’t letting go. You are stuck.

The only way I know to get unstuck is to consciously, repeatedly, actively choose to let go of the pain when it raises its head and trust that, no matter what happens, I will be okay. As I do this, I promise to honor myself and behave honorably. Instead of focusing on pain and victimhood, I focus on creating a life worthy of my own approval. I remind myself that I am strong, capable, smart, worthy and that I will cross whatever bridge I need to cross if or when I get to it. This helps me stop worrying about what might happen, and instead acknowledge what is actually happening now. Staying present – keeping my brain where my feet are – and taking care of myself above all else make letting go possible.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, you may find you need to forgive yourself at points along the way. Maybe you didn’t honor yourself. Maybe you put someone else’s comfort or well-being ahead of yours to your own detriment. Maybe you wanted so much to be loved or liked that you said “yes” to things when you wished you’d said “no” and thus compromised yourself.

First, let me say that we’ve all done it, so be gentle and compassionate with yourself when you do it, too. But please honor yourself from here on out so you don’t create more self-imposed suffering in the future. If there is any part of you that somehow doesn’t believe you are worthy of that depth of self love, I want you to call me, or come find me, or read this so I can remind you that you are a person of worth, that you are whole, and you are enough, and you deserve a happy, fulfilling life with rich relationships and amazing experiences.

Perhaps the last thing I’ll say about this topic is to try and remember that we are all doing the best we can at any given moment. Keep in mind the following about finding compassion and forgiveness for others and for yourself: A Zen teacher once said, “When somebody backs themselves into a corner, look the other way until they get themselves out; and then act as though it never happened. Allowing people to save face in this way, and not reminding them of what they already know is not their most intelligent behavior, is an act of great kindness.” ~ Marcandangel.com

That is capital-t truth. I have absolutely appreciated it when I’ve been given the space to save face, and I try to pay that forward whenever I can. I hope you will, too.

About Chris DeVinney

Me in a nutshell: mom, writer, former lobbyist, wife, volunteer, lover of music and art, massive fan of traveling, and something of a smart ass. A typical INTJ, I quietly observe anyone and anything that comes into my orbit, squirreling away material for future essays. These days I spend my time writing about whatever interests me (both professionally and personally) and trying to strike the balance between taking care of kids/family/house/pets and me. Occasionally I nail it, hang on to it briefly, and then scramble back toward the center when the tipping starts again. I know, it’s a common story.
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2 Responses to The Courage To Forgive

  1. S. Smith says:

    Well said and encouraging.

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