As I mentioned in my intro to this series of articles dedicated to understanding Forgiveness; everyone at many different points in their lives, will either have to ask forgiveness or be in a position where they have to decide whether or not to forgive. If you think back through the week that has passed; chances are that you found yourself on either sides of the coin on several different occasions. And because we understand all too well what it's like to be in need of forgiveness, it could be assumed that forgiving someone else should come quite easily…right?
In a little booklet called; “Forgiving Others” Timothy S. Lane states a few very important factors to take into consideration when talking about forgiveness. Most importantly, he describes forgiveness as an act of compassion… From the standpoint of someone in need of forgiveness, this definition makes complete sense. For interest sake, I Googled; “What is compassion” and the following popped up:
“Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others: “the victims should be treated with compassion”. Sounds about right… if you're the one in need of forgiveness… But what if you're not? What if you are the one in the position to forgive?
It would then be perfectly understandable if you were to think:
“If I am the one who has been wronged; am I not “the victim” in the whole scenario? Am I not the one who has been brought to suffer as a result of my partner's actions?
Sympathy, Pity, Concern…for the one who has betrayed my trust; the perpetrator…? Where was his/her compassion when he/she chose their actions?” not so easy to forgive then, is it?
Bell Hooks (born Gloria Jean Watkins) is an African-American author, who also supports this idea of Forgiveness and Compassion going hand in hand: “For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?” I interpret her quote as follows; if I do not forgive someone – by holding on to the mistake the person has made, I am not allowing myself to believe or even contemplate that person's capacity to change. Or put differently; not letting go of the past prohibits the opportunity for the other person to change; thus preventing us from going forward, changing and growing as a couple.
If this is a sound conclusion; it could therefore imply that; forgiveness is also an act of letting go of the past; putting it behind you and moving forward.
Tomothy S. Lane also sates: “Forgiveness cancels a debt” and therefore implies – something that has been owed to you, is not owed to you anymore. A debt is something that can be held against you, something that you can be reminded of, and something that has to be repaid in full. In cancelling a debt, you let the person off the hook… completely.
I would therefore like to propose the following; sincere forgiveness is an act of compassion whereby I choose to let go of the past, completely in order to set you free of the “obligation” you had to repay it. I therefore do not hold it against you, or bring it up to prove a point, to punish you or to protect myself; because it is cancelled, it is behind us. In so doing, we as a couple have the opportunity to grow and to move forward, if we so desire.
Even though we might accept this first proposition of what it means to forgive sincerely… or maybe because of accepting this; so many more issues arise. Questions like: “Can all things be forgiven sincerely? Does forgiving necessarily mean forgetting? What if the person does it again? Won't this definition of forgiveness turn me into a push over? And probably the most difficult one: “how on earth do I accomplish this!?”
Not one of these questions has an easy straight forward answer. And I completely agree that they do in fact demand attention. And I will get to that. For now, maybe you should just ask yourself whether you agree with my proposed definition of what it means to forgive sincerely or not.
What if you were the one in need of forgiveness, someone who has wronged another in a dreadful way, for whatever reason, but would like to be allowed the chance to change, to grow, to make it right… how about now, do you agree with the definition now?