Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Examining the F-Word

LAST WEEK, IN TWO different places, I read about the concept of forgiveness. (Yes, this is the F-word I'm referring to. All you weirdos out there can exit now. Ha, ha.) 

The first was while reading Marion Witte's  book, LITTLE MADHOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. As you might recall, I reviewed this book on my previous post. 

The second was while reading Jennifer Lauck's blog. 

The subject of forgiveness has always been a little bit hairy for me. Although I believe it is a valid part of a person's emotional well-being, I have trouble with the peripheral associations that often go with it. 

In religious or Biblical milieus, forgiveness is often given as a mandate in order to be "right" with God. It is one of the Ten Commandments, after all. Jesus forgave when humanity wronged him, therefore we should forgive those who wrong us. I get this. 

Oftentimes for someone who is already wounded by humanity, being told they're sinning by not forgiving their offender can be like adding salt to an already stinging wound. 

In other words, counseling a person who is still raw that they "need" to forgive their offender, is not going to help. It's going to make the wound even more tender. 

On the opposite side of the pendulum are those who say, "I'll never forgive him for what he did!" They usually say it with an angry tone. I wouldn't advocate this attitude either, for obvious reasons. 

So what is forgiveness? And how do we do it? 

I agree with Marion Witte's definition of forgiveness. It is simply to not retaliate. Even when you're justified, you don't repay evil for evil. You decide to not wish (or perform) bad things on those who have hurt you. This doesn't mean you have to be best buddies with an abusive parent. It just means you're not going to harm them. You're not going to perpetuate the violence. You're going to stop the cycle. Simple but difficult. 

On Jennifer's blog, a reader asked her how to forgive. Jennifer quoted the book WOMEN WHO RUN WITH WOLVES by saying forgiveness comes in stages and it's a process, not just a do-it-once-and-be done kind of thing. In my own experience, this has been very true. 

What I've come to believe is that everyone who is truly seeking healing and desires to live without the  bleeding wounds of trauma will at some point forgive. 

Notice I didn't say "will need to forgive." 

They will forgive. 

In other words, I believe it is a natural progression in the healing process. 

It's not something a church pastor or therapist or any other well-meaning person can insist upon. In fact I believe this is counterproductive. 

When the time is right for the person who is truly seeking wholeness, forgiveness will come. Naturally, just like a scab. 

Jennifer tells her reader to "forgive when you are ready. When YOU are ready." I wish someone would have told me this years ago when I struggled to forgive. What I know now, is that I didn't need to struggle. I just needed to wait for the wound to get to that point. Just like a scab. 

Can you relate to this? Do you have a definition of forgiveness? Do you mind sharing where you are in the process?  

7 comments:

  1. Hi, Grace, wonderful post! I really like the definition of not retaliating, not continuing the cycle of violence and harm. And I definitely believe that forgiveness is a process. For me, the cycle has been a long one and continues. I wish I could say that I have forgiven certain people who hurt me literally years ago, but I can't--yet. I'm still in the process, I guess.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking post!

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  2. A very thoughtful post....I am still unable to forgive soem people...or I should say I thought I had forgiven them, but then I let those feelings of anger and resentment bubble up and there it is again...so I ebb and flow with it...some of these are still from 20 years ago. I have read a lot on this and basically I do feel when we forgive we do not condone but we just relinquish the hold they and this feeling have on us...we no longer exert any energy and do not allow them to continue to have a hold on us. I still have not been able to move past some things yet. Too much anger.

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  3. We were thinking alike Grace, I was going to write about forgiveness myself today. You did such a beautiful job writing this post and I like the definition of not retaliating as well as that it is ok that forgiveness takes time. I think forgiveness is really healthy to oneself because holding a grudge (believe me I know) just brews bitterness in yourself.
    My daughter was hurt badly by someone and I knew I forgave this person when I was able to pray for him. I prayed he would become healthy-minded and never hurt anyone else.

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  4. I definitely agree with the time theory. It is a progressive thing, isn't it? And do we ever literally come to the "I've forgiven" stage? I think it's more of a gradual acceptance. Over time, we obsess over it less. Our daily life isn't consumed with the pain of if anymore. To say, I forgive, I believe isn't necessarily spoken words. It's, I'm living a good life in spite of it.

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  5. Very thoughtful and informative post. I find I need to understand to forgive. It was only later in life I came to realise how difficult my mother's life was and what a toxic marriage she had. This absolutely does not make what she did to her children O.K. but I do feel compassion for her. Unfortunately she passed away before I could tell her.
    I've never wanted to hurt other people but I have a hard time differentiating between retailiating and standing up for myself. When nothing you did was right as a child I think you you never pick up that sense of what is appropriate behaviour towards you. I'm much better now. I love the phrase "this is unacceptable to me" and enjoy saying it.

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  6. Great post, great comments. I really like: Mindy, "And do we ever literally come to the "I've forgiven" stage? I think it's more of a gradual acceptance. Over time, we obsess over it less. Our daily life isn't consumed with the pain of if anymore. To say, I forgive, I believe isn't necessarily spoken words. It's, I'm living a good life in spite of it."
    and Susan, "I find I need to understand to forgive. It was only later in life I came to realise how difficult my mother's life was and what a toxic marriage she had."

    I had to work at forgiving my mother for allowing me to be in such constant danger. It was a long painful process, forgiving her, and it took me taking a long hard look at her life and her viewpoint and realizing that she had really, truly, done the best job she could as a mother. Sadly it wasn't very good.

    On the other hand forgiving my sisters has been a completely different animal and I'm no where close to completing that! Oh well, I'm not dead yet. :-)

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  7. Grace, I never heard this definition of 'forgiveness' before but I love it! Very much.

    A friend said to me that she doesn't do harm to those she doesn't forgive. What makes the distinction then? All a matter of perspective?

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