How to… Forgive

Forgiveness is one of those things that I have struggled with all my life.  I’m still struggling with it, but I sense that finally I am making some progress.

As a Preacher’s Kid it is understandable that the things I learnt about in my growing up years, were always flavoured with Christianity.  I don’t have a problem with that, although I admit it helped trip me up a few times in my attempt to understand this difficult issue.  Just about everything I learnt growing up was flavoured with Christianity, so why should this be any different?

What I remember most was the ‘forgive and forget‘ line.  So I’m supposed to say that what s/he did to me is okay and then I had to forget it?  Yeah right! (a popular Kiwi expression best consumed with a bottle of beer)  That never made any sense from being subjected of minor bullying in the playground to much greater hurts as I grew older.  I just came the conclusion many times that I simply wasn’t a good Christian.  Actually that was a common conclusion for me on so many issues.

As I grew older, the issue of forgiveness became more problematic, not simply because the hurts grew larger and had a much greater impact on my life, but because my belief that it was my fault I couldn’t work out the forgiveness thing became even greater.

Perhaps the biggest thing I learnt wrong was that giving forgiveness was about saying what the person had done to me was okay.  Because it very much wasn’t okay.

Unfortunately (because it meant a whole lot of hurt happened, most of which I have been unable to mention here) this past year has seen the issue of forgiveness become critical in my life.  By now I had read enough on the topic to know that if I couldn’t forgive the person who caused the hurt, then it would eventually destroy me.  That’s not just something I read in a book, but rather something I realised for a fact as I reacted to the hurt inflicted.  It was destroying me.  The hurt was so bad that if I couldn’t move on from it, then it was me who would be destroyed.  I’m still working on the process, but forgiving the person eventually became something that simply made sense. And it separated me from the hurt.

It wasn’t okay what had been done to me, and it never would be.  I am very unlikely to forget what was done, and actually that’s a good thing because it will hopefully help me avoid similar hurts in the future.  The issue I’m still struggling with is that of forgiving myself, but then that is a whole other post.

Meanwhile yesterday I read a wonderful post by Scott Williams, a Clinical Therapist in the United States.  I thought about reblogging it but I don’t usually do that.  I know many people (including me often) don’t read reblogged posts.  But this is really worth reading, so go check it out:

Forgive and Forget

I should add that I’ve tried the boredom technique he suggests.  It’s very long and very slow…  but eventually I got there with the help of a very good therapist.  The therapist was gracious enough to never mention how long it took.  It must have been painfully slow for him.

In spite of all I’ve learnt, the second sentence of this quote is simply the best:

“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation………Forgiveness does not excuse anything………You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.” 

― Wm. Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity


18 thoughts on “How to… Forgive

  1. I had the same issues with growing up and feeling like my shortcomings were punishments for not being a good enough christian. I chose to forgive all those “good” people who made my life miserable, and suddenly I started to understand this lesson too. I’m glad you were able to find what forgiveness really has to offer – relief.

  2. Arieh

    As usual, I love your posts. Referring to forgiveness and forgetting, when it refers to personal relationship, like wife (who by the way is also in this world of mental illness) I can forgive, not always easily, and forget, as a human nature. But I refer to the holocaust, and relations with Germany. For me it cannot be either forget or forgive, once I know all that went on there, and as a Jew, I cannot understand fellow Jews who go back to live in Germany, work on the bloody places which are full of Jewish and non-Jewish blood. So I do not forgive and will not forget.

    1. Hi Arieh

      This is interesting, because I was talking about this topic with a German friend last week. His parents were born after WWII and for him this is all a part of history. He thinks the Nazis were the worst thing that has ever happened to this planet. I don’t disagree with him, but I was suprised at how much hatred and disgust he felt about them. They are not alone. I had genocide in my own country (Zimbabwe, 1980s) and maybe the numbers of deaths were smaller (200,000), but the suffering, torture… all still matters.

      My German friend feels we should never forget or forgive and yet… he’s actually the offspring of the people you cannot forgive. Where does that put him in your personal world view?

      For me… I’ve lived in countries at war and I’ve seen how good people can end up doing terrible things when life is insane on a constant daily basis. A child brought up surrounded by death and violence becomes numbed… and accepts this as normal. A child brought up in bigotry and fear… same thing.

      What struck me the most with Germany was another German friend who works as a psychologist. She said the levels of depression and mental illness is very high in the elderly – those who were alive during the holocaust years. Because many Germans knew what was happening and were too afraid to do anything. You have to remember that the Nazis started theirkilling spree with Germans (euthanising the elderly, homosexuals, the mentally and physically handicapped) before the turned the idea onto the Jews and gypsies.

      It’s easy to SAY “you should have done something” but not so easy when you are there. I know… i’ve been there twice in Africa. Twice I have witnessed angry mobs beat people nearly to death. Did I run in and yell “STOP”??? No, I did not. I was too afraid I would be next – next to be beaten or raped. I shut up, my heart wept… I did nothing.

      I cannot hate an entire race. religion or culture for the fact a few of them were twisted and insane with evil. I do not forget… but I try to forgive. Otherwise we are in danger of continuing the same attitudes of bigotry hate into the future.

      Who was born in Africa but of Greek, Jewish, Persian, Irish, Scottish, Dutch, English and German ancestry

  3. I’ve been struggling with forgiveness lately. I get all twisted up in the logic you describe above – that there’s something wrong with me if I can’t forgive, but isn’t forgiving the person like saying that I’m okay with what they did? My mind goes around and around on this.

    But – there is one thing that’s absolutely certain: Holding on to the anger and the pain is only hurting me more. I need to find a way to let it go – and I suspect forgiveness is the only way that’s possible. I’m having a hard time…but I need to keep at it.

    1. I know how confusing it is and that one you describe about whether forgiving the person says it’s okay with me what they did is the big one for me. It had me stumped for years. It was a mindshift that I needed, to say regardless of forgiveness what they did would never be ok with me. The forgiveness I finally gave was for me, and not for them. Actually it had vry little to do with them.

      I know it’s really hard to get to that point but it sounds like you’re heading in the right direction. Keep working on it. You know I was completely blown away with how much relief I found. It’s like the whole issue was finally over and I could move on. That said I still know what was done to me was wrong and I believe keeping that in mind is a good thing… hopefully it mi t help me avoid such a situation again. Good luck with it.

      1. Thanks. It’s definitely a mindshift. I can sort of sense it out there – just haven’t done all the work yet to get there. I wish I could just snap my fingers and make it happen! 🙂 But of course, all of these things are a process…and I have to take it one step at a time through that process. Sigh.

        I like your statement that the forgiveness you gave was for you – and had very little to do with the other person. That resonates with me somehow – will be mulling over that one for a while. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    1. That makes a lot of sense to me, although I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the forgetting is not as important as I was taught as a child. Sometimes it’s actually good to remember so that we can protect ourselves in the future. That’s how I look at it anyway.

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