April 18, 2012

It Is Time to Forgive...

This week, I would like to share some thoughts on forgiveness. It is not a term you hear much outside of the spiritual/religious world – at least not stated so bluntly. Yet, we all carry around hurts that have not healed or grudges that we still bear that are dragging us down or keeping us from moving on, and that is just no way to live!
One major obstacle that stands in the way of our forgiving is that we have all the wrong ideas about what it means to forgive in the first place. It is important to understand that forgiveness (adapted from Shelter from the Storm):
  • Does not mean what the person did was okay 
  • Does not mean the person has permission to hurt you again 
  • Does not mean the offense was not great 
  • Does not depend on the person saying s/he is sorry 
  • Does not mean that the offense was not deliberate or repeated
We often fall into the false belief that forgiveness means letting the person off the hook and accepting the injustice of it all. Quite the contrary – forgiveness is about letting ourselves off the hook! Both the Greek and the Hebrew verbs for forgive can be translated “to send away.”

Forgiveness is about sending away the hurt, pain, anger and bitterness and taking back our life. We also send away the person who hurt us and his/her hold upon our thoughts, emotions, and experiences in the present day when we forgive.

Most importantly, forgiveness is a choice – not a feeling. Since it is a choice, making a decision to forgive can be arrived at by examining both our reasons for and against forgiving the abuser (this is similar to looking for the payoffs and costs).

Spend some time reflecting on your reasons for and against forgiving, but, first, consider what Kubetin-Littlefield has to say on the matter:
“... many of us mistakenly believe that unforgiveness will somehow hurt those who hurt us. By refusing to offer forgiveness, we hope to ‘get even’ with them. But the opposite is true. Abusers [people who hurt us], unforgiven, go right on doing what they do. They never considered us in the first place, and our unforgiveness has absolutely no [effect] on their behavior.”
My reasons not to forgive:
My reasons to forgive:

There are some very real consequences of choosing not to forgive. I love this clip from “Woman Thou Art Loosed.” The main character, Michelle, is raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she is 12 years old. As an adult, Michelle is struggling to make sense of the hard life she’s had and the abuse she experienced. This clip begins with a visit from her parole officer and ends with her arriving at a revival where she attempts to let go of the past – but doesn’t succeed.

One of the main lessons we learn from Michelle’s story is that we have the opportunity to look ahead and not behind, to leave our pain and hurt “at the altar” so to speak. But not doing so can have serious consequences. In Michelle’s case, she literally ends up jailed – never to be free (at least physically) again. What are the consequences for you of not forgiving?

In order to leave the past behind, we need to understand that (adapted from Shelter from the Storm):

  • We cannot genuinely forgive until you acknowledge the full scope and impact of the offense. 
  • We cannot forgive and deny the offense at the same time. 
  • We cannot forgive someone else for an offense and carry responsibility for that same offense yourself. 
  • We cannot carry shame for an offense yourself and at the same time forgive someone else for it.

In other words, if we are continuing to blame ourselves for what happened, then there is nothing to forgive, the person has done nothing wrong. We must take responsibility for any part we played, but, until we hold the person accountable, there is no space to forgive and move on.

I encourage you to create a “Leaving It All Behind” list. Write down all of the things you are ready to leave behind, forgive others for, and forgive yourself for. Then, find a moment to read over your “Leaving It All Behind” list. After reflecting and truly committing to leaving it behind, dispose of the list in some way that feels meaningful to you – e.g. burn it, shred it, toss it into the ocean.

P.S. It is hard to believe, but after a few years pondering, many months writing, more months editing (and editing, and editing), Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage of Recovery from Sexual Abuse has reached its final stage - this guidebook needs a cover folks! Who better to help me choose than you?! Click here to take a brief survey and cast your vote!

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