Growing up I understood forgiveness as someone doing something wrong to you (or you to someone else), the person done wrong being upset, the wrongdoer apologizing, and all is forgiven and forgotten. A simple process to seemingly make everything ok. While I appreciate the simplicity of this framework, it didn’t prepare me for the times I didn’t receive the apology or believe the person felt any remorse for the actions they’d done to cause hurt.
I’ve spent this past year learning about and exercising the true act of forgiveness. Before this journey began, I did what I was taught to do by saying, “It’s fine. I forgive this person,” once I felt like enough time had passed. What I quickly realized (thanks to my mother’s wisdom) was that I had not truly forgiven and no apologies were coming anytime soon. My thoughts still evoked negative thoughts and emotions. Time hadn’t healed anything.
The catalyst I needed to understand what forgiveness actually was came from William P. Young’s novel, The Shack. In the book, Papa (God) says:
“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation………Forgiveness does not excuse anything………You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness……”
My mind was blown. All these years the idea of forgiveness was very much centered around forgiving to maintain friendship/relationship and brushing away the problem, but that’s not always the case nor does it need to be. Forgiveness is a conscious and intentional act, not the neat and tidy formula I thought it to be. It is an inside job, a practice you do for yourself first. To do the work of forgiveness, it’s best you not sit around and wait on the offending party to “do their job” of apologizing because it may never come and guess what? It’s not their problem, it’s yours. Not forgiving and allowing those negative thoughts to reside within you does nothing but disrupt your peace, absorb your energy, and give away power over your life to someone who has no business with it.
Entering this new space definitely took a while. A lot of days when I felt the negative thoughts creeping I’d have to stop and repeat, “I forgive” over and over until they resided. Over time it became easier and easier and eventually the negativity quelled. I’ve even developed a level of compassion and at times find myself praying for the other person to find peace and reconciliation should they need it or seek it. I still think about the situation from time to time but I think on it as a point of learning, thankful for what was realized and actualized. It’s always nice to receive an apology and feel heard, but that’s not always the case. Practice forgiveness for your own peace of mind, growth, and maturation.