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Friday, March 27, 2015

Forgiveness: The steps we go through for our own benefit.


As my dad's life draws to a close, I have felt the need to come to terms with what at times has not been the most comfortable or easiest relationship. In some ways, the most difficult relationship of my life. Part of what helps me come to terms with people and circumstances is writing about them.  In other words, allowing my thoughts and feelings see the light of day.  So, over time I have come to some conclusions about forgiveness.  (originally written 3/27/15 - he has since passed away)


About forgiveness:
I've heard it said that forgiveness is not something we do for others, but rather ourselves.   In a way, I see this as true.  This is especially true when the person whom is the object of our forgiveness either doesn't realize that he or she needs to be forgiven or doesn't care about being forgiven.  

We can confront the one who has wronged us and if he/she is ready they might even own up to their offense.  However, there is always a distinct possibility of them them not being recognizing or caring about the wrong they've done to us.  So,what then are we left with at that point: perhaps more resentment.

So, what do we do?  It's believe it's healthiest to forgive them.  I don't mean forgive and accept continued abuse. I mean to forgive them for what they have done and if necessary forgive them for their hurtful tendencies.

I believe the process to forgiveness can be a 4-step process: avoidance, acceptance, understanding and forgiveness  I will elaborate on that:
  • Avoidance 
    • We might have to pull away from the person who wronged us to prevent further hurt.  
    • Alternatively, we might have to pull away to avoid trying the temptation to 'settle the score'.
  • Acceptance
    • We still get irritated with or by the other person, but we accept that it is time to start trying to forgive our offender. 
    • They may not have stopped wronging or trying to wrong us, but we accept at this point that we cannot control them. They may be incapable or unwilling to change, but with avoidance, we've minimized their ability to hurt us.
    • This step is characterized by showing outward signs of forgiveness--going through the motions of forgiveness--but not necessarily internally being forgiving.
    • This is an important step as it shows we are moving beyond being the victim and worked towards forgiving them.
  • Understanding 
    • For our peace of mind we are trying to find reasons for why our offender is the way he or she is.  Is it personal or are we just the one in the line of fire?
    • This isn't meant to accept or condone their behavior but to understand it better.  That is to say we don't agree with, but understand how our offender could get to the place they are in their thinking or behavior.
    • In some cases, we may start to empathize with our offender, depending on what brought them to hurting us.
      • Perhaps, he or she had a tough childhood--abuse/neglect/tragedy.
      • His or her behavior, while not at all acceptable, may be a coping mechanism.  For example, if he/she did not have any control over rough circumstances during childhood, he/she might exhibit harmful controlling behavior in adulthood as a misplaced defense mechanism.
    • In other cases, we may just have to understand that perhaps our offender is wired differently.  Not everyone is wired the same.  We may on some level start to appreciate our offender is just wired differently and doesn't have the capacity to understand how they hurt us nor the capacity to avoid hurting us.  In the worst case, we might be left with understanding that they are (or have become wired to be selfish).  That's not very comforting, but understanding that some people are just that way can at least allow us to move to the forgiveness level.
  • Forgiveness
    • In this stage, we have pretty well let our anger and resentment go.  That's not to say we don't have 'flare-ups' of anger and resentment, but instead that it doesn't rule us.
    • This stage may be characterized by sadness.  Sadness that the relationship in question 'has to be' like it is.
    • We may forgive, but that doesn't mean we forget or put ourselves at risk in the situation again.
      • It may mean having the person involved--sometimes heavily--in our life.
      • It may mean forgiving from afar and for our own sake keeping a safe distance.
    • Sometimes forgiveness is expressed directly to the person.  In other cases, it may be implied or unspoken as we no longer showing resentment or anger in their direction.

I will close this by reminding my readers that forgiveness is an age old practice Jesus himself set the bar on this when he said:

...Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.   (Luke 23:24)

 I feel like if He, having committed no sin could do it, then perhaps the rest of us might do well to work on it.