Forgiveness Keeps the Heart and Spirit From Atrophying

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness this week.

My respect for people diminishes when they express unwillingness to forgive others.  I know that there are terrible and heinous crimes out there and when they happen to you or those you care about it can be very difficult to forgive those who committed the crimes against you and yours.  However, healing doesn’t happen without forgiveness.  As long as you are unwilling to even try to forgive you are stuck in an adamant circle of spiritual brokenness.

I like to believe that when people say that they will never forgive a person or persons for something, what they really mean is that they can never condone the actions that were taken against them.  I like to think they confuse forgiveness with complicity.

You can forgive a person for their crimes while not condoning in any way the things they’ve done.  You can forgive an abuser for abusing but still insist that abuse is wrong, should be stopped, and those who abuse should have to pay the consequences for their actions.

Even so, sometimes it isn’t for us to mete out punishment.  Sometimes that’s up to the universe, or god, or the Darwinian forces at work in nature.  Karma happens and we don’t always get to see it because sometimes that’s between a person and the forces that be.

Unless you are person without flaw, you should always be capable of forgiveness.  It’s a question of pliancy of spirit, of heart, of intellect.  It takes some humility to accomplish and sometimes it can take a long time to truly forgive a person who has hurt you on a cellular level, and as long as you keep trying, you are moving forward and evolving.  If you are evolving then you have a chance at fresh sight, fresh experiences, a renewed life that finds definition outside your past pain.

If you refuse to even try, you atrophy your heart, you let it grow rigid and stiff with bitterness.  Even if you think no one else can see it, you infect those around you with the pain you refuse to let go of.  I can always see when people hold onto pain against all time, with determination to keep it raw and open so they never have to feel obligated to let go, to come to that place where it isn’t about the person who did you wrong but just about the state of your own soul.  Maybe not everyone can see it but people like me can always see those with atrophied hearts.

Forgiveness often takes time.  Sometimes it can take years.  That’s okay.  But I would advise against employing the language of “never”.  I advise against letting yourself indulge in the language of unforgivability.

Two things always surprise me:

When Christians go on and on about things being “unforgivable”.  Their entire religion is based on the premise that there is nothing Jesus won’t forgive you for, if you ask for it, if you get baptized and accept Jesus as your savior.  How can you call yourself Christian and then not at least strive to forgive others who hurt you?  Are you counting on the fact that Jesus will forgive you for being a person unwilling to forgive his other “children”?  That’s pretty slippery and dark.  Or do you figure that you’re following Jesus for what he can give you, not what you can give others?

The other thing that surprises me is how parents teach their children not to forgive.  We are the most influential people in our children’s lives – so what you do, how you act, what you say, how you treat others, it’s all before your children as an example of how to live life.  It doesn’t matter what you tell them, it’s what they see you do that has the greatest impact on how they act and what they do.  So how can any parent teach their child to love others, to be open minded, to not bully others, to be willing to play and share with others, if your own heart is caked with the tar of anger and unreleased bitterness?

No one is perfect, of course, but the regularity with which I hear parents using the rigid language full of determination to “never forget” and to “never forgive” is depressing to me.  Hearing parents say that there is no compensation in the world to make up for (whatever has been done to them or others) depresses the hell out of me.

I have forgiven crimes against my body perpetrated by others.  And I have forgiven crimes against the bodies of those I love perpetrated by others, which was much harder.  I believe I can say with veracity that given enough time to let raw injuries to my body and/or my spirit harden up enough to stop bleeding, I can forgive anything.

And when I say I can forgive anything, that doesn’t mean I don’t expect crimes to be paid for with consequences or punishments administered by courts of law.  I expect those who commit actual crimes to pay actual consequences for the things they’ve done.  But that is outside myself and I’m less responsible for meting out that justice than I am for meting out forgiveness.

On the other side of things, I hope that those people I’ve hurt over the course of my life have found it in them to forgive me.  I am so far from perfect I’m afraid I have had many things to ask forgiveness for and I can’t tell you how important it has been, how meaningful to me it’s been, when I’ve been offered forgiveness by those I’ve injured.

Forgiveness is a circle.  We must offer it as much as we must ask for it.

Forgiveness heals.

6 comments

  1. Forgiveness to me is about letting go of my fear of being vulnerable and trusting.

    To “never forget” or “never forgive” I must keep feeding the pain that those who wronged me caused and by doing so I hand their actions continued power over my future. By forgiving I take back my power to be in charge of my reality. I take responsibility for that which I can change rather than focus on that which I can’t.

    If I choose not to forgive my perceptions of the possible are narrowed, dimmed and ultimately less.

    Why would I choose to be less?

    Kind Regards
    Belinda

  2. EmmaC says:

    Thanks for this post, Angelina. One of the lines I found most profound to me was actually this one: “On the other side of things, I hope that those people I’ve hurt over the course of my life have found it in them to forgive me.” Remember that friend of mine who I hurt in a moment of stupidity? In reading this line, I realized how much I’ve been hanging on to the need for her to forgive me. And then I realized that simply hoping that she’ll forgive me one day somehow has enabled me to let go of it. I know that doesn’t make much sense. It has something to do with shifting from “needing” her to forgive me to “hoping” she will forgive me. In any case, thank you.

  3. Angelina says:

    Emma- it makes TOTAL sense. That’s such a great way to move forward and I’ve had to get there myself with a number of people. We can’t control who forgives us or not, we can ask (if we dare) but I do believe that hoping for forgiveness is much more important than needing it. The main thing I’ve learned is that forgiveness isn’t really about the other person, ever. When we forgive others for things we are letting their infractions go with grace, but it isn’t dependent on that person wanting forgiveness because the healing is in ourselves. Likewise, when we’ve hurt someone and regret it, we can ask forgiveness and wanting it is a good impulse, but we do not always get it. The important thing is to hope for it because it shows spiritual growth to recognize we’ve done something hurtful. The next step is always to forgive ourselves if we have recognized a false step and admitted to our part in hurting someone.

  4. Jane Tatum says:

    Thank you for these wise and wonderful words, Lindsey. Today is one of the worst days of my life, and I couldn’t have needed them more. I am very fast to forgive others but very reticent to forgive myself. This could not have come on a better day. Thank you for so much teaching that you do through this blog. This is one of the best things you have shared, in a succession of excellent writings.

  5. angelina says:

    I’m so sorry you’ve had such an awful day! It is deeply satisfying when my own thoughts hit a chord with others. I hope tomorrow is a much better day for you. Hang in there,

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