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Forgiveness

Every week I pray,"Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

But I don’t know what forgiveness would even look like in this situation, let alone how to get there.

And frankly, I don’t even want to forgive.

 

Isn’t it dangerous to forgive if I can’t trust him?

 

I tried to forgive but I’m still angry and I want nothing to do with him.

 

Forgiveness: a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness

 

Why would I even want to forgive?

Forgiveness can be a profound step toward a deeper level of healing for survivors. It can be a step that opens the door to reconciliation. But even in the absence of apology or reconciliation, forgiveness can benefit survivors. It is worth it to at least explore what it is and keep it in mind. Those who are not ready for it right away might decide to take steps toward forgiveness later in life. Still, forgiveness is not the only path forward, and it is not to be undertaken lightly.

 

Can I forgive if the person never apologized or even admitted it happened?

The road to forgiveness is difficult without an apology, but it is not impossible. Forgiveness is a voluntary act on the part of the one who was harmed. It does not depend on the actions of the offender. However, moving on to trust and reconciliation would depend on admission of responsibility and a sincere attempt to make amends.

 

If a person has apologized to me, or asked forgiveness, am I required to forgive them?

No. If a person has sincerely apologized, they may be disappointed not to receive your forgiveness. But if they expect it or condemn you for not offering it, they are being manipulative, not remorseful.

 

How can I forgive if I can’t forget?

Forgiving does not mean you need to forget, or that you should even try to forget. It also does not mean you need to continue a relationship with the offender.

 

Can I forgive one of my children for the harm they did to the other child?

Only the one who was harmed has the right and ability and choice to forgive that harm. You can forgive the secondary harm that was done to you as a parent. But be very clear that you are only forgiving the harm to yourself.

 

Can God forgive someone for what they’ve done to me if I don’t forgive them? If God offers forgiveness, do I have to forgive?

Most traditions recognize that forgiveness from God is separate from forgiveness from the one who was hurt. According to many ancient religions, sins against the order of the universe are offenses against the Creator as well as the persons who were harmed, and are subject to universal consequences. Sometimes forgiveness from God is called "absolution," to distinguish it from human-to-human forgiveness.

 

Absolution stands separate from forgiveness. God’s forgiveness does not replace or take away any person’s choice to forgive or not to forgive.

 

What if it’s too late--can I forgive someone who has died?

Yes, you can still forgive by changing the state of your heart toward that person’s memory, by letting go of the resentment that often does continue beyond death. Many belief systems hint at the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation beyond death.

 

Do I have a moral obligation to forgive?

Most world religions and many ancient texts encourage and place a high value on forgiveness, but true forgiveness is always voluntary. Dr. Robert Enright, a prominent forgiveness researcher and practitioner, teaches that we are all morally obligated to refrain from injuring others in vengeance, but we are not required to forgive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following books lead the reader on a path that can lead toward forgiveness, through guided journaling and other exercises.

Robert Enright, PhD: Forgiveness is a Choice

Rev. Desmond Tutu and Rev. Mpho Tutu: The Book of Forgiving

Additional Resources

International Forgiveness Institute, founded by Rober Enright, PhD

Lewis Smedes: The Art of Forgiveness (revised edition under the misleading title: Forgive & Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve)

Roadmap to Forgiveness depicted in an infographic

Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It | Johns Hopkins Medicine

Rev. Desmond Tutu: No Future Without Forgiveness a memoir of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process in post-apartheid South Africa 

Frank Fincham and Ross May: Divine, interpersonal and self-forgiveness

Siblings Too Podcast: Forgiveness; what is is and what it isn't

Forgiveness Is:

  • Deciding against vengeance

  • Turning away from mental habits such as nursing resentment

  • Unhitching your mental state and your capacity for joy from the words and actions of the offender

  • Respecting the humanity of the person who wronged you--including their full responsibility as well as their shared frailty and capacity to choose going forward

  • Freely choosing an attitude of mercy toward one who does not deserve it

  • Facing and honoring your own hurt

  • Naming the offense as wrong

  • A process that can be started, paused, taken in big or small steps

Forgiveness is Not:

  • Forgetting the offense

  • Dismissing the severity of the harm

  • Saying “it’s OK”

  • Reconciling (reconciliation requires forgiveness, but forgiveness does not require reconciliation)

  • Trusting the offender

  • Going “back to normal”; continuing the relationship without needed changes

  • Acting like it never happened

  • Releasing the offender from consequences, legal or otherwise

  • Moving on with life (Forgiveness may provide the peace of mind that helps to move on, but it is not the same thing.)

  • Making excuses or justifying the harmful behavior

  • A backhanded condemnation

  • A once-and-done statement

Roadmap to Forgivenes

  1. Naming your hurt

  2. Expressing your anger

  3. Considering the pros and cons of forgiveness

  4. Deciding to forgive

  5. Working toward understanding and compassion for the offender

  6. Accepting your own pain and its meaning going forward in your life

  7. Stating your forgiveness--to yourself, a third party, and the offender if safe and appropriate

  8. Offering some type of good will to the offender

  9. Choose the next step or focus of your life in light of the freedom offered by forgiveness