TGIF: Forgiveness

What I am Thinking About



What a loaded word.


The dictionary gives us synonyms such as pardon, absolution, exoneration, defining it as the action of stopping being angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw or mistake.[1]


Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.[2]


The very word can bring up painful images and memories – it can cause us to think about horrible evils such as the Holocaust, child abuse, rape, and domestic violence.  It can bring forward incomprehensible depths of pain and suffering.  It can also bring to mind those (comparably) teeny seeds of day-to-day annoyance that come with living alongside other humans at home or work, church or school.  Seeds that sprout and grow and blossom into massive thorny bushes that take over the garden of our minds, choking out compassion and grace.


But what is involved in the practice of forgiving someone – or indeed, being forgiven ourselves?  Almost all of us sense the importance of forgiveness as a conceptual ideal, a spiritual discipline, a deep yearning for resolution and reconciliation.  There is a great big SHOULD that comes along with the word – as in “I should forgive him/her.”  But most of us would have to admit that sometimes we just don’t want to forgive someone or ask their forgiveness. How do we translate this nice, on the paper idea of forgiveness into the raw, gritty, and often painful process of actually living it out in our relationships?


What I am Grateful For


A mentor of mine taught me about a saying on forgiveness: refusing to forgive someone is akin to drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

I am grateful today for the teachers of forgiveness I have learned and continue to learn from.  Some of these have been people I have wronged who have given me forgiveness I did not earn.  These are my children who are the most regular recipients of my apologies and dolers-out of forgiveness. These are the deep thinkers and writers whose work challenges me to move outside of what I think I know about forgiveness and enter a new understanding.


What Inspires Me


All over this community and around the world, people are forgiving one another.  People are forgiving one another for unthinkable, unimaginable harms and setting themselves and others free.

Need some inspiration?  Head over to The Forgiveness Project and read some of the stories of individuals and communities who have rebuilt their lives following hurt and trauma.  The Forgiveness Project is a non-profit that works to offer alternatives to hate, cycles of violence and injustice by building a climate of tolerance, resilience, hope and empathy.


How I am Practicing My Faith


I am a part of a faith tradition that understands that we are able to love because we are loved first by God.  A faith tradition that believes that we are able to forgive because we are first forgiven by God.  As a Christian, I am a follower of Jesus, the one who taught us to pray everyday for the capacity to both give and receive forgiveness (think of the Lord’s prayer…“forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”), and so in order to practice my faith, I must practice forgiveness. 


I begin by recognizing that forgiveness is not a one-time action or isolated feeling or thought.  The practice of forgiveness is rather a way of life that is shaped by an ever-deepening friendship with God and other people.  Therefore, this discipline is not only…or even primarily…a way of dealing with guilt, but rather to restore communion, or reconcile, with God…each other…all of creation. 


The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.  We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity.  By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up.  Love transforms with redemptive power.”[3]  And so a life of forgiveness, is a life of love.  And it is love that allows us to give up certain claims against one another, to be truthful about our own behaviours, and live into a future that is not bound by the past.  And for me, that is a level of love that I cannot muster on my own.  I need God to summon that love, I need God to assure me of that love, I need to soak deep into that love of God that is mercy, is grace, is absolution.  Not just for the sake of myself, but for the sake of all that I meet in my life, that I too can meet them with mercy, justice, compassion, and love.


If forgiveness is on your mind, I would encourage you to join in the discussion at Coffee and Conversations that Matter January 29th at 10 am.  This month we will focus on the topic of forgiveness – what it is, what it isn’t, and why we need it (do we?).

MLK Love.jpg




[1] Google Dictionary.

[2] “Forgiveness Defined,” The Greater Good Magazine: Science-Based Insights for a Meaningful Life, The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkley, 2019.

[3] King Jr., Martin Luther, Strength to Love (Cleveland: Collins + World, 1977).