Defining Forgiveness

forgiveness friday dandelion

It’s the weekend, so I’m writing another Forgiveness Friday post. I should probably change the name of this series to Forgiveness Weekends, but I like alliteration so I’m leaving it as is. Either way, once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. Today, specifically, I’m contemplating what forgiveness means to me. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I am (very, very slowly) making my way through Forgiveness Is a Choice by Robert D. Enright. I finished school for the semester on April 11, so I’ve had a little more time to read lately. In the last chapter I finished, Enright suggested that I define forgiveness for myself by writing in a journal. Since this blog is the closest thing I have to a journal, this seemed like the best place to do it.

When I started my forgiveness journey, I was at a total loss over what the word really means. I referred to the Wikipedia entry on forgiveness, which said that forgiveness isn’t condoning, excusing, pardoning, forgetting or reconciliation. This was revelatory for me, because I have a tendency to excuse bad behaviour unless and until it passes the point of reason. It was also revelatory for me to think of forgiveness and reconciliation as different (albeit related) concepts.

Some months later, I’m still struggling to understand what forgiveness means. I have, however, made some inroads. Keeping in mind that I am not a mental health professional and I do not hold a philosophy degree, I’m going to give it a go. Here’s what I mean by forgiveness:

Forgiveness is the process of recognizing that you have been hurt through the actions of another, whether those actions and their consequences were intentional or not. Recognizing that you have been wronged, and that you are not responsible for having been hurt, in forgiving you acknowledge and deliberately let go of your anger. As you let go of your anger and hurt feelings, you are able to move forward more productively both in your relationship with the person who hurt you and in other areas of your life.

Perhaps a clearer way to explain it is to define forgiveness as a three-step process:

  1. Recognize that you have been hurt.
  2. Acknowledge your anger and hurt feelings.
  3. Release those feelings, not because the person who hurts you deserves to be forgiven, but because you freely choose to forgive.

The third step feels the hardest to me, because it begs the question of how to go about releasing those feelings. I’m coming to that part of the book, so I may have a better answer for that question soon. Right now, however, I’m doing some work on actually acknowledging that I have been hurt, and recognizing the anger I still carry around with me. It’s been surprisingly helpful.

For example, I always had a difficult relationship with my father, who passed away when I was 16. Three months ago if you’d asked me whether I was still angry with my dad I’d tell you that of course I wasn’t. I’d moved past it. However, the truth is that I have never really made my peace with my father. I’d simply decided that we didn’t have much in common and that it wasn’t worth my time to think about. In reading the book and realizing how much my relationship with my father continues to impact my life in major ways, I could see that maybe I’m not as over it as I believed. Even just seeing that, and allowing myself to the space to admit that I actually am hurt, and I have a right to be hurt, has been helpful. My hope is that by seeing it for what it is, I can actually deal with it and move on.

So, that’s where I am. I’m beginning to understand what forgiveness actually means to me. Now I just have to see how it impacts my life.

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    Comments

    1. I’m so impressed Amber, by your bravery and honesty in doing this kind of intense self-work. I have a very hard time letting go and forgiving too, but I agree it’s worth working on. The realization you made regarding some residual anger toward your father sounds like a huge breakthrough, and hopefully some closure and forgiveness will come from it.

      I have an unrelated question here, and I know you’re super busy with school (and work and life), but I’m wondering if you’d like to be part of a writing process blog tour. I’ve been a big fan of yours for a few years now and would be honored if you take part, but I also totally understand if you can’t!
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