Not So Fast With Forgiveness
I have been struggling with the concept of forgiveness this past year. It’s as if the universe knows this and has decided to present me with numerous scenarios in order for me to work it out.
From a failed marriage to betrayal by friends, I continue to be presented with the same question: Can I forgive? My answer isn’t as simple as you’d think.
Forgiveness has been a basic tenant of my life since I can remember. It comes from my religious upbringing where I was taught that it is my duty and responsibility to offer forgiveness...always. ‘To err is human, to forgive is divine’ was a household principle.
As a little girl, someone stole the watch I had received as a birthday present and when caught, she mumbled her apology in the principal’s office. I said, ‘It’s ok, I forgive you’.
Through the years, when people have hurt my feelings, talked about me behind my back, betrayed me, bullied me, or committed any sort of wrong doing toward me, I would say, ‘It’s ok, I forgive you’.
However, as I’ve aged, I’ve learned something about apologies: not all are heart-felt. Instead, many are a dismissive way to get out of trouble or to casually patch up a deep issue or to pass back the forgiveness ball by saying ‘hey, I said I’m sorry’.
I’ve been struggling with the apology-forgiveness scenario and trying to figure out what to do you do when you feel an apology isn’t genuine. What do you do when the apology doesn’t feel substantial enough to cover the hurt or betrayal? Do I still have a duty or responsibility to forgive?
I recognize the parallel between my personal struggle with forgiveness and the struggle on a global level, so I headed to the library to see what had been written from various viewpoints. I was referred to a book that gave me the answers I needed.
The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal is a classic text in forgiveness. Wiesenthal was a prisoner in a concentration camp when a dying Nazi called Wiesenthal to his bedside and asked him for forgiveness for his crimes. Wiesenthal was dumb-founded and left the room without saying anything.
Thirty years later, he wrote this book about his experience. In the book, he also poses a simple question to theologians from around the world including the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He asks them, “What would you have done?” It is eye-opening to see the various perspectives and insights about forgiveness.
After finishing the book, I asked myself the same question: Can I forgive? My answer is yes, absolutely, but it is no longer an automatic response. In my healing, I have recognized my power with forgiveness.
I have stopped saying ‘It’s ok’ and instead say ‘thank you for apologizing’.
I have stopped beating myself up for not immediately being able to forgive someone who has not apologized or taken any accountability for the wrongdoing to me.
I have found freedom in eventually letting go - forgiving in my own time - without carrying a grudge or hoping for some karmic boulder to come the person’s way.
What I’ve Learned on My Forgiveness Journey
1. Forgiveness is not a single action that you begin and complete in a short period of time. Forgiveness comes on your own terms…in time, when you are ready. Honor your truth about not being in a place to forgive.
2. Forgiveness requires accountability, a commitment to amend the wrong, and a sincere apology.
3. Forgiveness doesn’t mean restoring a toxic relationship. You can forgive and move on. Forgiveness does not equal reconciliation.
4. Forgiveness means you have made a choice to move on from the negative experience. It means you have decided to put the focus back on yourself rather than the other person. Forgiveness is about you.
5. Forgiveness is not denying or minimizing your hurt. It doesn’t mean you condone what happened.
6. Forgiveness allows you to let go of being a victim and to move on to becoming someone who has shown courage and has overcome adversity.
7. Forgiveness can’t change the past but it can enlarge the future.
Do you struggle with forgiveness? How do you let go and move forward? What do your beliefs direct you to do with regard to forgiveness?
Kristy Campbell is a writer, speaker, and mom of 5. She is speaking on divorce and transformation at The Divorce Expo and also contributes to ModernMom.com and The Huffington Post. She has created a community called Divorcehood for divorced and single parents, so join her there to be part of the conversation. You can find her work at www.kristycampbellcreative.com.
Photo credit: deviantmonk