Today, bravery looks like forgiveness.
What is it about forgiveness that makes it so difficult? I’m not talking about saying, “I’m sorry”… to me, apologizing is easy (for anyone who is willing to admit they’ve done something wrong). But asking for forgiveness, and actually forgiving someone, pushes us way out of our comfort zone.
Forgiveness, the real kind, gives both the offender and offend-ee an opportunity to get complete; to clean up any emotional unfinished business and move on with a clean slate. Conversely, if we don’t ask for or grant forgiveness we stay connected to an unsuccessful moment. It’s hard to move forward when niggling resentment is a constant presence.
So… what stops us from engaging in forgiveness in a healthy way? Here’s my (very remedial) take on a healthy “Forgiveness loop”:
- Someone does something wrong,
- they then apologize,
- they then ask the offended party for forgiveness,
- they then are granted forgiveness,
- then both parties move on.
Anyone who has been forgiven can speak to an improved connection with the person they hurt, and those that forgive are brought a sense of peace that hearing “I’m sorry” doesn’t give.
Here’s the more typical, unsuccessful model:
- Someone does something wrong,
- they’re guilt-tripped into apologizing,
- they say “I’m sorry” (when they don’t mean it) and then
- both parties pretend all is fine but carry resentment forward into the next interaction.
Wow! Really… how awful is that.
You’ve been there, right? That moment when you’ve heard “I’m sorry”, then someone mumbles, “That’s ok,” and each person walked away thinking, “Oh sure, like he/she was sorry. I don’t think so”. And right there, that moment is the birth of unfinished business, or the stuff that haunts the relationship. There’s a difference between “That’s ok” and true forgiveness.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
― Mahatma Gandhi, All Men are Brothers: Autobiographical Reflections
Why, then, when it feels so good to forgive/be forgiven so difficult? I think it’s because both asking for and granting forgiveness makes us vulnerable, and being vulnerable is a hard place to be.
If you ask for forgiveness, you risk hearing “No.” You are literally hanging out there in a state of insecurity, waiting for someone that you care about to release you, redefine your relationship moving forward. If you grant it, you are agreeing to release any resentment or anger you have about the person or their actions. Some of us would rather hang on to resentment… there is some power there, especially when we’ve been hurt. But the healthier exchange frees everyone involved to move on.
As we’ve previously discussed, bravery is present when we intentionally move into a vulnerable space to make great things happen. Forgiving/asking for forgiveness requires a brave heart and a willingness to put yourself at risk. But transformation happens in that space, as relationships can be transformed by this single act.
I’d love to hear from you and about your own journey in forgiving/asking for forgiveness. As always your willingness to share will strengthen our “Brave community.”
Be brave, lean into discomfort, engage in forgiveness.
Stacey Paxman said:
Ah, Lisa. So easy and sensible in theory and so incredibly difficult in real life. Some hurts go so deep that it seems impossible to forgive. And personally, I believe that there are acts that don’t deserve forgiveness. Do I carry the resentment and rage with me? After 15 years I still do. But forgiving can be like letting someone off the hook. And I just can’t. Maybe I’m just not kind enough. More power to those who can truly forgive the biggest wrongs in their lives. I’m not one of them.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Lisa Pote said:
Thanks, Stacey, for such a powerful and courageous comment. You raise a really important question about the levels of harm done, and the “Forgivability” of those acts.
I hear stories about people touched by heinous acts, and their forgiveness of the perpetrators… and often wonder what I would do given it was me, or my family. I think, in the end, we are the only ones that can measure the harm done against our capacity to forgive. And find a way to move forward regardless.
I admire you your willingness to even review how you feel… and it is my hope that you find peace in the space in which you have landed.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Forgiveness is something I have struggled with regarding one person in my life. I discussed this once with a priest. He said something about (and I WILL mangle this) forgiveness requiring repentance on the part of the offending party. OK, so I was Catholic, and repentance is HUGE in that tradition, but I took it to mean that I was not required to forgive someone if he/she did not behave in a forgivable way. It eased my burden. I always thought he would be my ticket to hell because I couldn’t forgive him, but I always figured I would do it some day.
However, that very same person recently committed suicide. There was never that fantasy moment when we suddenly understood each other and were willing to forgive. Instead, there is the guilt associated with never having forgiven him. The knowledge that what I thought of as my strength in being honest about his unforgivability was certainly at least a tiny grain of the burden he carried with him, which became too much for him to bear.
So now I am stuck having to forgive him and myself. I wish I had jumped on the forgiveness thing a little sooner. I think maybe I could have forgiven the person without forgiving his actions. I think sometimes we confuse forgiveness with approval- they are so very different.