Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, not for the person who offended us. This truism empowers the act of forgiveness. When I think of absolving the offenders in my life—whether that be the suicide pilots of September 11, those who are dismissive of my viability, or the joker who cut me off at the exit ramp to the airport—I feel recalcitrant!
Forgiveness is often positioned as turning the other cheek, speaking softly, going the extra mile, or not complaining. This philosophy works as long as the offenses I suffer are not too profound. However, let something big happen, and these gracious ideals are insufficient to carry the day. When I suffer a profound offense, my will to forgive suffers a seeming lack of resolve.
Furthermore, if the old adage, “forgive and forget,” is the barometer used to test whether or not forgiveness has occurred, the greater the offense, the harder and more elusive forgiveness becomes. For example, Americans can no more forget the atrocities of September 11 than we can forget the attack of December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor.
Forgiveness is not about forgetting, granting absolution, or considering the offense to be like water gone under the bridge.
Neither is forgiveness what I hope to hear after saying, “I’m sorry.” This is the transaction of reconciliation, which has a decision of forgiveness associated with it, yet is different. Reconciliation requires the agreement of two parties, the offender and the offended.
You can forgive someone while sitting all by yourself.
In fact, you can forgive whether the person who offended you ever apologizes or not.
You can forgive someone—or a group of folks—who offend you, and who you may not have ever met. You can forgive a movement, such as abortion rights. You can forgive a government. You can even forgive a dead person.
Forgiveness is a choice you make, for yourself, that initially benefits you.
This is all well and good. But we need more than understanding. I will spell out the steps to forgiveness in my next post.