It seems that there are many people who are angry at God. Their anger is real and something to be overcome for a better relationship with God. Do you suggest that they forgive God? In my understanding, the loving and holy God cannot do anything unjust, so it is challenging for me to conceptualize how people might be forgiving God. However, their anger is real and something to be resolved—that’s the key and real issue stimulating the idea of forgiving God. Thank you for your wisdom.

The late Lewis Smedes in his book, Forgive and Forget, suggested that God is big enough to take our resentment and our forgiving.  I am a great admirer of Dr. Smedes, but I think he got this one wrong.  As you say, a perfect God cannot be unjust.  If we presume otherwise, this can open up many errors in theology.  For example, God is imperfect in this scenario and so why follow the imperfect?  God is capable of sin in this scenario.  Would you want to worship a sinful being?

Instead of forgiving God, I recommend working on acceptance—-acceptance of God’s will. Sometimes this involves suffering, but out of suffering can come strength, patience, and a deep empathy for those who suffer.

As I was thinking about forgiving people who have hurt me, I began to realize that sometimes the central person I have to forgive is myself. Is it acceptable to consider forgiving myself?

Yes, and the process of forgiving yourself is described in detail in my book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness (W.W. Norton & Company, 2015, available at amazon.com). The difference between forgiving others and forgiving yourself is that in forgiving the self, you also need to go to those who were hurt by your actions and ask for forgiveness. So, you forgive (the self) and seek forgiveness (from others) in self forgiveness.

Does forgiveness always start with feelings of anger? What about feelings of disappointment? For example, someone is angry when robbed by a stranger. In contrast, a mother is disappointed with a teenager who promised to clean her room, but did not.

Forgiveness does not begin with our own emotions. Forgiveness begins with an injustice by another person. Sometimes we react with anger, at other times with disappointment, and at other times with sadness and mourning. Even if we do not feel any of these emotions, if a person has done wrong, you are free to forgive if you choose to do so.

When a person forgives and really understands the importance of forgiving, do they then have an obligation to pass on the importance of forgiveness to others?

Because forgiveness is a choice, I do not think that we should put pressure on those who forgive to now go and become teachers of others. I do think that it is reasonable to let those who forgive know that helping others to now forgive is good, if this resonates with the person. In my own experience, I see people, who develop a pattern of being persistent forgivers, often do have an internal self-chosen obligation to teach and help others.

The New Criticism of Forgiving: It Places the Burden of Healing on the Victim

We are once again addressing a criticism of forgiveness that is showing up now more frequently than we would have predicted. The criticism might discourage some people from forgiving and so we need to address it because we think it does not hold up upon careful scrutiny.

A post on person-to-person forgiving appeared on the Salon.com website on Sunday, August 23, 2015. One commentator, with a lengthy response, had this (in part) to say:

“People are waking up to the cruelty of promoting forgiveness, just as they are waking up to the cruelty of promoting ‘prosperity consciousness’. In both cases, a burden is placed on the victims to fix themselves rather than fix the injustices of society. People are told they won’t ‘heal’ unless they forgive. That is a lie.”

Let us make four points regarding the above quotation:

1) Forgiveness is a choice and therefore it is not “promoted” by mental health professionals. We have to distinguish between the rhetoric of news media and genuine attempts to help.

2) Because forgiveness is not “promoted,” mental health professionals, who understand this, are not being cruel.twofeet

3) The notion of a “burden” to “fix” oneself is incorrect. To reiterate the same argument made on May 6, 2015, suppose a person hurts her knee while running. Is she now placing a “burden” on herself, or perhaps is the medical establishment placing one, as she undergoes surgery and rehab? She is hurt and now needs to do the work of healing. If someone is treated unjustly, doesn’t he have to accept the “burden” of striving for justice if this is his choice? Either way, forgiveness or justice, those injured have to do something. To blame forgiveness as an unfair move that is burdensome is incorrect. Instead, the effort to rehab a knee or to rehab a hurting heart through forgiveness can bring healing.

4) The commentator dichotomizes forgiveness and justice, claiming that either one forgives or seeks justice. It does not seem to dawn on many critics that people do and should let forgiveness and justice grow up together.

The new criticism does not stand up upon close examination. People who are injured by others should practice caution when hearing this criticism.

Robert

Dr. Enright Featured at Healthy Aging Conference

Catholic Charities will host their Fifth Annual Healthy Aging Conference on Wednesday, Sept. 9 at the Sheraton Inn, 706 John Nolen Drive in Madison, WI.

The conference features two keynote speakers and eight workshops devoted to helping seniors, their adult children, and caregivers become familiar with the scope of alternatives that lead to positive and healthy aging.Healthy-Aging-Conference-Register-Btn

Dr. Robert Enright will kick off the conference with a keynote address, “Learning Forgiveness: Finding Hope and Joy in the Senior Years.”

Dr. Enright pioneered the social scientific study of forgiveness beginning in 1985 and currently works with schools in Belfast, Galilee, and 30 other world communities, helping teachers set-up forgiveness education programs. He is a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the UW-Madison and a founding board member of the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc.

Curt Campbell, PT, NCS, ATP will present the noon keynote address, “Mobility and Successful Aging.” Campbell focuses on older adults with neurological issues including Parkinson’s disease, stroke, ALS, multiple sclerosis, vertigo, balance and mobility problems. He has been a Dean Clinic physical therapist for 10 years.

Conference attendees will be able to choose two workshops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon from a selection of eight:

  • ”Dimensions of Wellness” by Gayle Laszewski, older adult program director, Goodman Community Center.wellnessgraphic-2
  • “I Don’t Want to Move, I Want to Stay Independent” by Peggy Carroll, information and assistance specialist, ADRC.
  • “Yoga and Fall Prevention” by Paul Mross RYT, LMT, yoga instructor/researcher and founder of Happy, Healthy Aging Preventative Programs: Yoga.
  • “I have high blood pressure, not hypertension: Better Health Literacy Means Better Health” by Steve Sparks, director of the Wisconsin Health Literacy.
  • ”Boost Your Brain Health: Your brain and how to keep it strong.” Tips to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by Joy Schmidt, community education specialist at The Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin.
  • ”Diabetes Prevention: Your lifestyle, the easy, but not so easy
    choices you make every day”
    by Paul Manning, chief mission advancement officer at the YMCA of Dane County.
  • Live Longer: Choose Hospice” by Melanie Ramey JD, MSW / CEO The HOPE of Wisconsin.
  • ”Mind Over Matter, Brain Over Bladder” by Dr. Dobie Giles, chief of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery in the UW ob-gyn division of gynecology.

Registration is open online at www.ccmadison.org or by mail. Visit www.ccmadison.org and download an invitation/registration form. For seniors and students, the fee is $35; professionals, $65. The registration deadline is Wednesday, Sept. 2.

Why Our Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program Matters

“Bullying will not be tolerated in this school.”

“You are entering a no bullying zone.”

Consciousness raising is good precisely because it challenges each of us to be our best self, to do good for others.

Yet, sometimes some students are so emotionally wounded that their anger overwhelms the attempt at consciousness raising.  The students are so very wounded that they cannot listen well.  Some are so wounded that they refuse to listen.  Even others are so mortally wounded that they find a certain pleasure in inflicting pain on others.  It is when it gets to that point—others’ pain equals pleasure for the one inflicting it—that we have a stubborn problem on our hands.  No signs, no consciousness raising, no rally in the gym, no pressure to be good is going to work…..because the gravely wounded student is now beyond listening.

Yet, we have found a hidden way to reverse the trend in those who are so hurting that they derive pain from hurting others.  It is this:  Ask the hurting students, those labeled so often as bullies, to tell their story of pain, their story of how others have abused them.  Tell Your StoryYou will see this as the rule rather than the exception: Those who inflict pain over and over have stories of abuse toward them that would make you weep.  In fact, we have seen the weeping come from the one who has bullied others, the one who has inflicted serious pain onto others.  He wept because, as he put it, “No one ever asked me for my story before.”  His story was one of cruel child abuse from an alcoholic father who bruised him until he bled.  And no one ever asked him about this.  And so he struck out at others.  Once he told his story, he began to forgive his father and his pain lessened and thus his need to inflict pain on others slowly melted away.

We all have a storyThis is what our Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program does.  It aids counselors and teachers in bringing out the stories in the pain-inflictors so that their own pain dramatically decreases.  As this happens, through forgiveness, bullying behavior is rendered powerless……because in examining their own hurt they finally realize how much hurt they have inflicted…..and with their own emotional pain gone, they have no desire to live life like this any more.

Come, take our anti-bullying curriculum and save the life of at least one child and help prevent inflicted pain on countless others.

Robert