"On Forgiveness"

The best-selling book,Tuesdays With Morrie by Albom (1997) serves as a poignant reminder that forgiveness of others and of oneself is necessary for peace of mind. Like many of us who are deeply hurt when a friend disappoints us, Morrie had never forgiven his friend for not visiting his terminally ill wife in the hospital. Although his friend later apologized, explaining he had shown weakness and inability to cope with illness and death, Morrie had not been able to forgive him. Not until his deathbed, does Morrie realize the pain and emotional suffering he has carried throughout his life by not forgiving his friend.

Failing to reconcile unresolved anger and blame for past hurt or offense can cause immeasurable physical and emotional health problems in one's life. In clinical practice, professionals observed clients who were able to forgive and saw improvement in psychological and sometimes physical health. Many sources suggest that forgiveness can lead to decreased anger, depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as enhanced well being, including peace of mind.

The Reverend Charles Henderson, preaches about the difficulty of forgiveness, and ponders "The Meaning of Forgiveness in a World of War":

"To forgive in general is one thing, to forgive those who have hurt you personally is another.

During times of conflict and war one of the casualties is the ability to see clearly and discern fairly. We tend to view the world in terms of moral absolutes. "They are either with us or against us." People are seen as either good or evil, heroes or villains. The problem is, of course, that most of us, and indeed, most human beings do not fall into such neatly defined categories.

Human nature is messy and complicated. People who sometimes lie or cheat on their wives can at other times act like the heroes who risked their lives trying to rescue others on 9/11. Likewise, those identified as saints or role models in history have serious character flaws that good historians or biographers can readily identify. This may well be one of the main reasons that forgiveness was such an important part of the teaching of Jesus. Still, his emphasis upon forgiveness remains one of the most difficult aspects of his teaching."

He continues, "Consider the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In the parable Jesus compares God to a king who forgives his impoverished and indebted servant everything he owes. (In my paraphrase of the parable, I've placed it in a contemporary setting.) In this case the servant's debt amounts to something in the neighborhood of ten million dollars. Moved by the servant's impassioned pleas for mercy, the king simply wipes away that debt in a sweep of the hand.

Unfortunately the servant reacts to that act of mercy without the slightest sensitivity to the plight of another man who owes him something like a thousand dollars. The unforgiving servant seizes his debtor by the throat and bellows: "Pay me what you owe!" But when the poor man cannot come up with the money, he has him thrown in jail. Later the king confronts the unforgiving one: "You wicked servant; I forgave you all your debt, should you not also have demonstrated mercy as I had mercy on you?" In anger the king delivers him to the jailers. And Jesus concludes the parable speaking directly to each of us: "So also my heavenly father will do to everyone of you if you do not forgive your neighbor from your heart."

Now, where does that leave us? It leaves us with the possibility of being thrown into jail not because of having committed any crime or broken any law, but simply because we did not forgive someone who had committed evil against us.

How difficult it is to affirm Christ's teaching about forgiveness, let alone put it into practice. Sure it may sound reasonable that we forgive the human race in general for sins known and unknown, but how do you forgive your best friend for an act of betrayal? How do you forgive your own parents for psychological damage or even abuse inflicted upon you in the earliest years of childhood? How do your forgive your spouse for falling in love with someone else? How do your forgive your children for adopting a way of life that seems completely alien to all the values you have tried to teach? It's easy to forgive in general, but it's almost impossible to forgive a specific wrong that has brought you deep personal pain."

He adds, "In some cases it seems impossible to forgive once, let alone 70 times 7 as Jesus required.

Yet forgiveness was at the very center of Christ's teaching. It was his principal concern at the very hour of his death. As he hung there bleeding on the cross, with pain as great or greater than any of us will ever experience, he said so directly of those who delighted in his own death: "Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing."

Now if Christ's teaching on forgiveness is difficult for us to apply in our personal lives, how much more difficult for a group of people, for a whole nation to forgive. Should we forgive the thousands upon thousands of people who cheat on their taxes, resulting in a heavier burden upon those of us who pay our fair share? Should we forgive those who aided and abetted the terrorists who struck the World Trade Center on 9/11?

One of the very first difficulties involved in any attempt to forgive is that forgiveness involves a judgment against the offending party and this judgment may itself be faulty. A while back, during the first Bush administration, a parent upset at the prospect that his son, a soldier who had been sent to fight in the Middle East, might die in combat, wrote to the New York Times. If my son dies fighting to guarantee this nation a continuing supply of cheap oil, I will have to pray that God forgive you Mr. President, I cannot."

Another difficulty comes in trying to decide what form forgiveness should take. As depicted by Jesus in the New Testament forgiveness is not just a fuzzy feeling; it expresses itself in specific behavior. The canceling of a debt, the pardoning of a crime, the swinging open of the prison doors. That's why Jesus was in so much trouble with the priests and ministers, the lawyers and law enforcement officers of his day. He didn't seem to be very concerned about their problems of law enforcement; he didn't seem to be sensitive to their difficulties in the practical administration of justice. In the world of practical politics we can't let every debt be cancelled; we can't allow every criminal to go unpunished. The simple administration of justice requires enforcement of the law. But that was not Christ's principal concern.

Where the world sees the human family divided between the good and the bad, between the righteous and the sinners, between my team and your team, Jesus saw one family. He saw all of us equally in need of God's mercy, and equally called to the work of mercy.

God's love is not like a wall that separates the law-makers from the law-breakers; God's love is like the sun which shines down upon us all. God's mercy is like the rain which pours down upon law-maker and law-breaker alike.

Remember Robert Frost's poem the "Mending Wall?" The poet enters into conversation with his neighbor, at the boundary between their two farms. The harsh New England weather has broken down that wall, and the neighbor is painstakingly putting the stones back in place. When the poet asks his neighbor why he thinks it necessary to rebuild the wall, the man replies: "Good fences make good neighbors."

Frost doesn't agree: "Before I built a wall, I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn't like a wall, that wants it down."

For us, God may be that something or someone who wants the walls to come tumbling down. But somehow we keep conspiring to build them up. We're continually torn between God's mercy and our human need to punish, to reprimand, to imprison.

We want to contain by force of arms the evil we find in Saddam Hussein; we want to lock up the criminals, throw them in jail and throw away the key. And in this imperfect world, for the foreseeable future there may be a need to build some walls. Some forms of retributive justice may be necessary; some systems of mutual defense may be required to preserve order in the world. But we cannot heal the deep wounds within the human family by the force of law alone. We can place a hundred thousand troops along the border of Iraq; we can place a police officer at every street corner in the land, but we cannot even begin to heal the wounds that afflict us all by force alone.

Neither this nation's most powerful weapons, nor the most efficient police force in the world can begin to heal the wounds of the heart. But that is where the real work of healing must begin; and that is where forgiveness plays its part."

Throughout history, many spiritual leaders have preached the value of forgiveness:

Mahatma Ghandi(1869-1948), Indian nationalist leader, who established his country's freedom through a nonviolent revolution and whose teachings inspired nonviolent movements elsewhere, notably in the United States under civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr.(1929-1968), American clergyman, one of the principal leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States and a prominent advocate of nonviolent protest. King's challenges to segregation and racial discrimination helped convince many white Americans to support the cause of civil rights in the United States.

Nelson Mandela(1918- ), South African activist and statesman, who was elected the first black president of South Africa in 1994. In 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC), a civil rights group promoting the interests of black Africans. In 1962 he was sentenced to five years in prison; in 1964 he was further sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage and treason. Mandela soon became a worldwide symbol of resistance to apartheid, South Africa's policy of rigid racial segregation.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu(1931- ), South African clergyman, civil rights activist, and Nobel laureate. Born in Klerksdorp, in what is now North-West Province, Tutu was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1960. He was named dean of Johannesburg in 1975 and bishop of Lesotho in 1977; the following year, he became the first black general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. In 1984 Bishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of "the courage and heroism shown by black South Africans in their use of peaceful methods in the struggle against apartheid." Apartheid, South Africa's system of racial separatism, has since been dismantled.

In ISLAM, CHRISTIANITY, AND JUDAISM: THEIR IMPACT ON HISTORY AND TODAY’S PROBLEMS", Charles Walton states ...Loving the enemy, and forgiving his offenses, is a great liberating step. When the step is taken one no longer has to keep in mind the full unsavory panoply of offenses against you, offenses which have led to a relationship of enemy or war. One does not have to remember for generations backwards who did what to whom, or get trapped in an endless series of violent retaliations. With the liberating step of forgiveness, adrenaline flows and creativity and democracy grow..."

There are documented cases of parents of murdered children who have forgiven and sometimes be-friended the accused on Death Row. Once these parents found it in their hearts to forgive, they were able to find peace.

In Reuter's Associate Press, Monday, January 3, 2000, Afshin Valinejad writes the story of an Iranian father who spares the life of his son's killer. The teen was seconds away from hanging for the fatal stabbing when Ali Mohebbi, though grieving for his son, Hadi, decided to stop the hanging and forgive him. "If I forgave him, maybe millions of people who would watch the news would learn about forgiveness -- and that is the message of Islam," he said. "When I saw his hands cuffed behind him and the noose around his neck and everyone was waiting for my order, I thought that first of all, if this boy is dead, it will not bring back my son." Ali Mohebbi concluded, "Forgiveness is the message of Islam."

All religions teach the concept of forgiveness.

In a web site about Islam, it states there are three sayings of Muhammad which point to God’s forgiveness:

(1) God said: "A servant (of God) committed a sin and said: O God, forgive me my sin. And God said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them. Then, he sinned again and said: O Lord, forgive me my sin. And God said: My servant has committed a sin, and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them. Then, he sinned again and said: O Lord, forgive me my sin. And God said: My servant has committed a sin and has known that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for sins. So God tells him: Do what you wish, for I have forgiven you."

(2) God the Almighty said: "O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it."

(3) Our Lord descends each night to the earth's sky when there remains the final third of the night, and He (God) says: "Who is saying a prayer to Me that I may answer it? Who is asking something of Me that I may give it to him? Who is asking forgiveness of Me that I may forgive him?"

Yom Kippur, "Day of Atonement," is the holiest day of the Jewish year. The Jews observe Yom Kippur eight days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. On Rosh Hashana, it is believed that God inscribes all names in the "books," and on Yom Kippur the judgement entered in these books is sealed. The days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe. Yom Kippur is, essentially, the last chance to demonstrate repentance and change the judgement.

Christian teaching goes one step further than Islam and Judaism, with The New Testament teaching “Love Your Enemy.”

The following examples are from the New Testament:

Forgiveness Father, forgive them; for they don't know what they do. Luke 23:34

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:32

I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:10

Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. John 20:23

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against then Spirit will not be forgiven. Matthew 12:31

I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:7

Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven', or to say 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? Mark 2:8-9

Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemes they utter: but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. Mark 3:28-29

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Luke 24:46-47

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses neither will your father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15

My son, your sins are forgiven. Mark 2:5

Let him without is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her. John 8:7

Do you see this woman? You gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loved little. Luke 7: 44-47

Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received it, and they shall be granted to you. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions. Mark 11:24-26

For if you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. Matthew 6:14-15

It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, I desire compassion and not sacrifice, for I did not come to call the righteous but sinners. Matthew 9:12-13

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times saying "I repent, forgive him." Luke 17:3-4

So also my heavenly Father will do to you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. Matthew 18:35

In "The Healing Power of Forgiveness" Nancy Schimelpfening, B.S. in Biology, M.S. in Community Health Education, admits to having a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be and how the correct medical intervention can turn mere existence into living.

She advises on how to begin the process of forgiveness: "Forgiveness. It's such a hard thing to do, but it can be so liberating to the soul. What makes it difficult for most of us to do is the way we define it. We think of forgiveness as meaning that we should say all is forgotten and things will go back to what they were. This Biblical definition of forgiveness is very hard for most of us to swallow. How can you forget the unforgettable? How can you forgive the unforgivable?

To enjoy the benefits of forgiveness, however, we needn't go that far. All that's really required is that we make the decision to move forward, to let go of the old hurts. We don't have to condone what's been done. What's wrong is still wrong. We don't have to invite the person back into our lives or even be friendly with them. What we do have to do is allow ourselves to release all the negative emotions associated with that person. As long as we hold onto the pain, we are choosing to allow that person's past actions to continue to hurt us. We can also choose to stop letting them hurt us. That's a definition of forgiveness that's more doable for those of us who are less than saintly.

Here is an exercise you can do right now to let go of pain and begin to regain your life.

Make a list of those who have hurt you and how:

________________ hurt me


Now, go to a quiet place where you can be alone and think of each of these painful situations. Think of these in detail, allow yourself to feel the hurt. Then place yourself in the other person's shoes. What do you think motivated them to behave the way they did? Were they abused themselves? Do they suffer from a mental illness? What fears and insecurities motivated their behavior? Now, think of how they are stealing your personal power. Does this make you angry? Do you want that to stop? Yes! Now, fill out this part of the exercise for each person on your list. Speak the words out loud as if you are speaking directly to them.

________________, I now understand why you behaved the way you did and I am sorry that you are so filled with pain that feel you must inflict it on others in order to regain your own power. I refuse, however, to let you hurt me anymore. I am choosing to let go of the pain you have caused me, for my own sake. I realize that letting go of this pain does not minimize or condone your bad behavior. It does, however, validate my own worth as a person and my right to finally be free of your abuse. I am choosing to take back my personal power so that I may heal. I now release all the hurtful emotions I feel regarding your behavior. I am now free to heal and move on.

There is amazing healing power in accepting past experiences and then letting go of all the emotional attachments to them. Choose today that you will move forward and escape the past."

When counseling persons going through divorce, Pat Gaudette advises forgiveness:

She states, "Forgiving is essential in successful relationships," and adds:

If I had to think of a situation that was less conducive to forgiving another's behavior, it would have to be when a marriage is falling apart. How can you possibly be expected to forgive your spouse for cheating, or lying, or being an abuser? It's too much to ask! Or is it? Forgiving is an essential element of successful relationships whether it is forgiving your date for being late, forgiving your husband for not remembering your birthday, forgiving your boss for not giving you the raise you deserve, or forgiving your mother for the name she chose for you at birth.

It's not always easy to forgive. But without forgiving, you will not be able to move past the anger the other person's 'wrong' has produced in you. Anger may put your entire relationship in jeopardy. With enough anger and rage inside yourself, you cause damage to other relationships in your life.

Can there be any doubt that unforgiveness and the resulting anger motivates a man to stalk and kill his unfaithful wife? Can there be any doubt that unforgiveness and the resulting anger motivates a woman to destroy her ex-husband's reputation with lies and innuendo? Can there be any doubt that unforgiveness and the resulting anger motivates an employee to return to the workplace with a rifle...

It's not easy to forgive the pain of betrayal, the pain of abuse, the pain of loss... Yet, without forgiving, you cannot move forward to new, fresh relationships. Without forgiving, you cannot truly mend a broken relationship.

Forgiving does not mean you will allow your spouse to continue to abuse you, or cheat on you, or make your life miserable. It means you look past the act and at the person. It means you forgive the personal weakness he or she is unwilling or unable to control.

Forgiving does not mean you will remain in a bad marriage if your spouse cannot change his or her behavior.

Forgiving does not mean you must be friends with the woman who slept with your husband or the man who slept with your wife.

Forgiving does not mean you will continue a friendship with a person who is mean-spirited toward you.

Forgiving does not mean you won't seek legal recourse against a boss who is discriminatory.

Forgiving the actions of others helps to remove damaging anger and rage from within you.

How many times have you wondered if you did all you could to save your marriage? Forgive yourself for 'failing' to stay in a situation without hope."

The weak can never forgive.
Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
-- Mahatma Gandhi

Voice of Forgiveness, is an Arabic Short Wave radio station. The program preaches "Without forgiveness, we would have no friends, no family, and no relationship with God. But forgiving is not as simple to understand nor as easy to do as it may seem."

That forgiving is not easy to do is an understatement I know only too well.

Last year, my second-ex husband asked for forgiveness. He realized he had hurt me greatly before, during, and after our marriage. Several years ago, my first ex-husband had expressed similar sentiments while courting the woman who is now his wife.

I paid lip service to forgiveness, while internalizing tremendous anger and resentment. The truth is, I had not forgiven and could catalogue every hurt and abuse I'd ever suffered at the hands of these men.

My internalized anger toward them and myself, for accepting the hurtful years in the role of "good wife," was often overwhelming, and I suffered from depression through the years. Depression, it is said, is another word for internalized anger.

Yet, I could not bring myself to forgive them. So, I asked for advice while confessing to my parish priest. Father David's response? He asked that I pray, not only for my ex-husbands, but for anyone who had ever hurt me in my life.

Ultimately, I realized I needed to forgive myself as well.

Both my ex-husbands have forgiven me for any role I ever played in the demise of our relationships. And they have proven to be good husbands to their current wives.

It is time I forgive them, and myself, for the mistakes of the past. I've learned my lessons.

It is time to move on.

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