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Defining Forgiveness

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03/01/2009 - Last issue, I spent some time discussing trust and how difficult it can be to repair once broken. Tying this into our analogy of a concrete foundation, trust acts as the sand which fills in smaller voids and strengthens the structure. Now we move on to an even more difficult topic which is forgiveness. Forgiveness acts as the air in our concrete mixture. Through forgiveness, anger and resentment over violations can be released.

I struggle with how to cram what needs to be said about forgiveness in this limited space. Over the next three issues I will break this into three parts. The first, this issue, will attempt to define forgiveness. The next issue I will give my arguments for the importance of forgiveness. And finally, the third part will focus on some steps to work towards forgiveness.

The concept of forgiveness is a tough pill for many to swallow. In 1942, C.S. Lewis stated, "Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive…" Today, not "everyone" is saying that forgiveness is a good idea. In fact some counselors hold to a view which encourages people to try and use their anger as a healing force and value retribution.

Based off my research, I tend to fall in a camp that views forgiveness as essential, meaning that it is necessary for healing, intentional, or as a choice one makes, and benevolent, compassion has a role for the offender. I also feel that forgiveness is not dependent on what the offender does. The person who has been hurt does not have to continue to live in anger and resentment, and thus continue to be victimized by an unchanging offender.

"Forgive and forget" is a popular mantra today. I have spoken with many people who express desire to forgive a person but feel that since they have not forgotten what has happened they have not truly forgiven. I do not believe that it is always possible to forget an offense nor should all offenses be forgotten. I used the example last issue of the need for a victim of abuse to forgive the abuser but not reenter an abusive situation.

With all this being said, here is what I believe forgiveness to entail. The forgiver chooses to no longer harbor anger and resentment toward the offender. The hurt may take time to heal. Through the hurt some choose hold on to the anger as if a lifeline, not realizing that their very lifeline hinders their own healing. While the forgiver may not be able to forget, the forgiver also chooses not to keep record of the wrong and allow the offense to be used as a weapon. The forgiver gives up the right for revenge. I often encourage the hurt to view the offender as a person with their own struggles and pains.

The last thing I will say on this is that forgiveness is not a "one and done" thing. Sometimes, the same offense may need to be forgiven repeatedly, even within a day. Next month, I will share my arguments on the necessity of forgiveness.

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