September 14, 2005

Give the gift of forgiveness

Some time ago my sister asked me, 'Is there anyone that you need to forgive?' And it was one of those questions that you can't answer right away. It has stuck with me. My father told me once about a question he was asked by an examination board at seminary, 'Do you owe anybody anything?' He said no, he didn't have any debts, but the question stuck in his mind, I know because I first heard about it 40 years later. So here I am, five years (?) after my sister asked me her question, which surely was asked in another context for a reason I can't remember or never understood. I was wondering, what does it mean to forgive? After a few minutes on the internet I learned that there are some common myths about forgiving, including the following:

1. To forgive, we have to forget the offending behavior.
Forgetting is not part of forgiving. With forgiveness, we let go of the past in order to reclaim the present, be we do not forget that past.

2. To forgive is to excuse the offending behavior.
Forgiveness does not in any way excuse or condone the inappropriate actions that created our regret. We forgive for one main reason: to be free of the negative emotions associated with that regret, which is quite different from condoning the offense.

3. To forgive, we have to reconcile with the offender.
To reconcile with someone is to reestablish a relationship with that person. Reconciliation can be part of forgiveness, but only if we choose to make it so.

4. We should only forgive if the other person deserves it.
We forgive others because we deserve it, because we deserve to be free of the regret and the pain it has caused us. Whether the person who hurt us deserves our forgiveness has nothing to do with our decision to grant it.

Looking at Wikipedia,
Forgiveness is a choice the forgiver makes to let go of resentment held in the forgiver's mind of a perceived wrong or difference, either actual or imagined. As the choice of forgiveness is made in the mind of the forgiver, it can be made about any resentment, whether toward another, oneself, a group, a situation or even one's God. Forgiveness of another can be granted with or without the other asking for forgiveness. Some believe the choice of forgiveness is only properly exercised if forgiveness is requested. Another view is that forgiveness is a gift the forgiver gives to oneself to free their mind of resentment. Forgiveness does not entail condoning the wrong or difference that occasioned the resentment. Forgiveness can be seen as a religious value. ..even pure pragmatism can lead to forgiveness, as it is well documented that people who forgive are happier than those who hold grudges.

As to my sister's question, you bet there are. If there's one thing I can do its carry a grudge. There's a whole slew of folks I should get busy forgiving.

(P.S. I'm just jabbering on about myself here-- you blogees, take things at your own pace. For me at least this forgiveness business seems to take decades, and really, what do I have to complain about? Honestly, not that much. Even so, the millstones in my mind won't stop grinding...)


At September 14, 2005 5:45 PM , Blogger Kate said...

my new mantra is this: " forgiveness is a gift to oneself." I really needed that today, so thanks Matt.

At September 14, 2005 8:27 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

Sure thing Kate, I'm really glad you liked it. You're welcome. Its been my mantra today too, a solvent for the mind, a tough old nut and rightly so....


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