We have to realize that forgiveness, as the late Lewis Smedes said, is an imperfect enterprise for imperfect people. It is common to have forgiven and then to be triggered by something unexpected, whether it is a dream or meeting the person for the first time, as examples. Because you already know the path of forgiveness, I recommend that you get your backpack on again, and your hiking shoes, and travel the forgiveness road once again. This time it may be quicker with deeper results. And please do not be discouraged if and when you have another trigger for your anger in the months or years ahead. Go on the forgiveness journey once again.
Too often in society the word forgiveness is used casually: “Please forgive me for being 10 minutes late.” Forgiveness is used in place of many other words, such as excusing, distorting the intended meaning. People so often try to forgive with misperceptions; each may have a different meaning of forgiveness, unaware of any error in his or her thinking.
Freedman and Chang (2010, in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, volume 32, pages 5-34) interviewed 49 university students on their ideas of the meaning of forgiveness and found that the most frequent understanding (by 53% of the respondents) was to “let go” of the offense. This seems to be similar to either condoning or excusing. Of course, one can let go of the offense and still be fuming with the offender. The second most common understanding of forgiveness (20%) was that it is a “moving on” from the offense. Third most common was to equate forgiveness with not blaming the offender, which could be justifying, condoning, or excusing, followed by forgetting about what happened. Only 8% of the respondents understood forgiveness as seeing the humanity in the other, not because of what was done but in spite of it.
If we start forgiveness education early, when students are 5 or 6 years old, they will have a much firmer grasp of what forgiveness is…..and therefore likely will be successful in their forgiveness efforts, especially if these students are schooled not only in what forgiveness is but also in how to go about forgiving.
KMPH Fox 26 News, Fresno, CA – After spending seven months in the hospital receiving treatment for her gun shot wounds, a California woman is back home and telling everyone that forgiveness was the key to her recovery.
The woman’s story is remarkable not only because of here struggle to live but because she defies the odds every day.
Alvarez lives with Spina Bifida, a spinal condition with which she was born. She is 34 years old but was not expected to live past the age of 20. Then the seriousness of her condition was magnified, and her life changed forever, on May 27th of last year when the bullet fired from her father’s gun hit her spine.
The shooting occurred just a few months after Alvarez lost her mother. She says her father struggled with the loss and she thinks that loss, coupled with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from serving in Vietnam, made him snap. After all, it was Memorial Day.
“I think he wanted us all to be together, I think that’s why he did what he did. I don’t think he did it out of anger,” she says.
Alvarez recalls that every day she spent in the hospital after the shooting was a battle. She couldn’t breath on her own. She lost the ability to move her hands.
“I forgave my dad,” she says. “That’s the best thing I could have done, was forgive my dad to get better, get my strength back.
“I have my hands now, I can push my chair now. Knowing I can be out there in the world, means the world to me!” she says. “To have my life back again!”
And for those struggling with their own challenges, she offers this advice…
“You can never forget, but you can forgive,” she says.
April 15, 2013, 3:00 PM: the Boston Marathon was changed forever. So were the lives of many people.
I was a nurse in Medical Tent A taking someone’s blood pressure when the first bomb went off. I thought there was something wrong with her blood pressure because I had never heard such a sound through my stethoscope before. I took my stethoscope out of my ears and then the second bomb went off. Our medical tent was there to provide first aid to runners needing help after running the 26.2 miles. Our usual complaints were exhaustion, nausea, dizziness, and weakness. In the space of just a few minutes we went from sophisticated first aid to trauma. We had to shuffle everything. Runners who could be discharged were escorted out. Runners who needed more attention were moved to another area in the tent. We were quickly told that patients were coming in with traumatic injuries because two bombs had exploded across the street from our tent.
Suddenly our patients were missing legs, hands, feet, had shrapnel wounds, bloody ears, carnage was everywhere. People were coming in dazed and covered with smoke debris. I had a couple of nurses turn to me and ask, how do we do this? I told them we have our supplies, we will use our knowledge and we will take care of the patients with whatever skills we can muster. We just needed to get them stabilized so they could be transported to area hospitals. At one point I threw my hands up in the air and asked if anyone wanted to pray. Several people came together and we started saying the Our Father. When I got to the part: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others, I found I couldn’t say those words. Instead I asked St. Michael the Archangel to protect us from the wicked snares of the devil. Forgiveness was not an option at that moment.
My heart will always go out to the victims of that awful event. I know that there are people who are still getting surgeries trying to correct injuries suffered that day. We treated over 250 people in just a couple of hours.
What I have learned reading Dr. Enright’s books on Forgiveness, is that it is never easy. Is there a difference when you have to learn to forgive someone who blew your leg off or when you have to forgive someone who has hurt you emotionally? Is one harder than the other?
In reading and appreciating the work of Dr. Enright I am learning that each situation is unique, but that the process of forgiving is universal.
On a personal note, I found that invoking St. Michael the Archangel, was part of the beginning of forgiveness. There is evil in the world. One of the first steps one must take on the forgiveness path is to acknowledge that one has been wronged. That evil action of inflicting incredible physical harm on innocent people was wrong and does deserve punishment. Our justice system will deal with the person accused.
Since reading about living “The Forgiving Life,” and trying to embrace it as I live with emotional hurts of my own, I am trying to follow the steps. I have become more aware of how many people have a need to forgive someone for something. As Dr. Enright writes, it is usually because of love being withdrawn. Does having someone withdraw love hurt less than someone losing a limb? Only someone who has lost a limb can answer that. I have not walked in those moccasins. I have had love withdrawn, physically and emotionally, and it is awful.
Reading Dr. Enright’s books has helped me start the path of living a forgiving life. Thank you, Dr. Enright. Please continue your most valuable work of teaching us that there is hope and that if we work on it, we can forgive others, but we must start with forgiving ourselves and acknowledging our own pain. Time will heal but so will following the right path.
Editor’s Note: The shoe graphic above is the May 2013 cover photo of Boston Magazine (Photo by Mitch Feinberg). Each pair of shoes pictured was actually worn by a Boston Marathon runner in that year’s event. The caption in the middle of the photo reads: “We Will Finish The Race.” You can read the heart-rending stories of those runners in the May 2013 Boston Magazine cover story.
If one person requires an apology before forgiving and another person practices unconditional forgiving, this does not necessarily imply a large difference in their understanding of forgiveness. For Jewish and Christian people, forgiveness is an act of mercy toward a person or people who have acted unjustly toward the forgiver. In both monotheistic traditions, people see that all persons are made in the image and likeness of God. This insight makes forgiveness appropriate because even those who behave badly are made in that image.
Please keep in mind that some in the Jewish tradition practice unconditional forgiveness, as Joseph did when forgiving his brothers in the book of Genesis. Some Christians require an apology before they forgive. In terms of the essence of what forgiveness is, however, people from both traditions tend to share the understanding that to forgive is to practice love and mercy toward the wrongdoer.
There are many misconceptions about forgiveness. Here are 5 worth noting:
1. Forgiveness places the burden for healing on the one who was the victim. For example, if someone is assaulted and now is feeling depressed, the burden for healing falls on the one who was assaulted. Our answer: Of course the burden of healing rests with the one hurt. That is always the case whether the hurt is emotional (as in the case of depression) or physical (a broken leg, for example). When we have an injury of any kind, we should never rely on the one who injured us to somehow fix the consequences of our injury because too often the injurer is not concerned one way of the other with our healing.
2. Forgiveness foreswears punishment of the injurer and lets him or her off the hook. Our answer: Forgiveness and justice grow up together. When one forgives, one should seek justice. In the case of punishment, if the injurer broke the law, the injured one should not take the law into his/her own hands, but leave the punishment to a neutral, third party judge.
3. Forgiveness is morally suspect because one “lets go” of the other’s injustice. Our answer: Forgiveness is not a “letting go” of an offense but instead is a merciful overture to the one who had no mercy on the victim.
4. Forgiveness makes the one injured develop a victim-identity, in essence crippling his or her self-esteem. Our answer: Forgiveness helps one to thrive and rise above the injustice, thus helping the forgiver to shed the victim mentality.
5. Forgiveness is dangerous because it puts the injured one in harm’s way again as he or she reaches out to the injurer. Our answer: Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. To forgive is a moral virtue. To reconcile is a negotiation strategy of developing once again mutual trust. One can forgive without reconciling.