I am finding no excuses for what my husband has done to me. When I try to forgive, it is very difficult for me to cultivate any sense of empathy toward him. What would you suggest to help me forgive?

You need not find any excuses for your husband’s behavior if you are to forgive him. Forgiveness is not based on finding excuses, but instead is based on seeing his worth, not because of what he did, but in spite of this. Further, try to see his inner world. Is he wounded in any way?  Confused?  Do you see a human being rather than someone who is less than human?  These kinds of perspectives can increase empathy and foster forgiveness.

Suppose someone has not asked me to forgive them. Is it all right under this circumstance to hold onto my anger?

What would be the point of holding onto your anger in this circumstance?  If the anger is excessive, it could bring you down (reduced energy and unhappiness, for example).  Holding onto anger is not a successful strategy to get another to ask for forgiveness. Too often people who hurt us and keep on hurting us are unconcerned about our inner world. In such a case, our forgiving can set ourselves free from inner agitation. This then can free up energy to work on genuine communication and possibly reconciliation with the other.

Is there any advantage in forgiving and reconciling compared with forgiving and not reconciling? If I forgive but do not reconcile, will this weaken my ability to forgive in the future?

There is no general rule regarding forgiving and not reconciling. In other words, your not reconciling with someone who is not remorseful or who is unrepentant (when acting very unjustly against you) should not weaken your ability to forgive in the future. In contrast, if you refuse to reconcile with someone who in fact has remorse, has repented and, where possible, has given recompense, then you need to examine your own inner world. Perhaps you have excessive mistrust or resentment and these can get in the way of future forgiving.

Finding Meaning in Suffering: I Am Someone Who Can Love Despite Hardship

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could Holocaustfind meaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.

In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.

I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. SufferingYet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.

How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind up their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.

As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them
to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person, and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have Out-Of-Sufferingtheir well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.

When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.

The self-help literature seems to emphasize emotional healing once one forgives. My question is this: How can I use my own journey of forgiving to benefit others?

We have to make a distinction between what forgiveness is and one important consequence of forgiving, namely being healed of powerfully negative emotions. When we forgive, we offer goodness toward the one who hurt us. The paradox is that we as the forgivers, then, can experience emotional relief. Yet, that is not the end of the story. As you forgive, you begin to know the pathway of forgiveness and now can help others, such as family members, think about and practice forgiving. Your experience might prove to be valuable to those who are new to the process of forgiving.

How can I put my anger aside so that I now want to forgive and am able to actually forgive?

I do not think it is a matter of putting your anger aside. Instead, it is a matter of  going ahead with forgiveness, if you so choose, even when angry. I say this because our science shows that as people forgive, their anger tends to lessen. So, you might want to start the pathway of forgiving even when you are angry. The process may help you reduce anger. In other words, you do not have to wait until the anger lessens before you start to forgive.

Are there acts so terrible that you should not, as you say, give a gift to the other?

Some people will not forgive certain people for certain acts. Yet, other people will forgive others for the exact same kind of act. Thus, it seems to me that it is not the act itself that is out of bounds to forgiveness. Instead, the one who was injured is not ready to offer forgiveness. We have to be gentle with people under these circumstances. We are not all ready to forgive others at the same point of the injury. We have to be careful not to condemn those who need more time or who are ambivalent about forgiveness in a particular circumstance.

Forgiveness Education Expands in Lebanon

Saida, Southern Lebanon About 40 miles south of Lebanon’s capital of Beirut, the International Forgiveness Institute – Lebanon is making major inroads into the sectarian violence that has disrupted and crippled the country for years. Calling its program “Forgiveness Education for Violence Prevention and Peace Building,” the Lebanon effort is headed up by Ramy Darwich Taleb who grew up in the northern part of the country. Here is Ramy’s most recent progress report on the IFI program: 

Our goal is to make forgiveness principles known throughout Lebanon with programs at schools, refugee camps, youth centers and churches because we believe that Forgiveness Education for Violence Prevention and Peace building brings about behavioral change that will help prevent conflict and the practice of violence.

Due to the cultural impact the younger generation is minted with the idea of taking revenge to defend one’s honor. Many have never heard of Forgiveness as an option of dealing with conflict in a peaceful way.

Ramy 7
Ramy Darwich Taleb (in white sweater) works with students.

We are very glad to have been given the opportunity to implement the forgiveness program in a public school near Saida, the South of Lebanon. The school has a variety of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian and Gipsy students which depicts the miniature version of the situation in the whole country very well. Obviously these students have barely ever heard about forgiveness, which makes us even more excited and thankful to be able to impact these youth.

For the beginning we chose a group of 230 students from grade 1 to 9 that will partake in the 7 sessions Forgiveness program for 7 weeks. We divided the group into two groups, which means our Facilitators will work with the first 115 kids from February to March and the second group from April to May. The principle of the school seems to be very open to the program, so we might be able to establish a full year curriculum for the next school year.

Another Organisation called “Open Gates” in Saida that works with Bedouin women, invited us to provide a weekly program, starting in February for a group of 10 young women at the age of 17-28 that combines bible studies with the forgiveness program. These women live in a Muslim community but are interested in learning more about Jesus. They partake in a Jewellery project that provides work and a spiritual home for them.

IFI-Lebanon teamed up with other relief Team B2organizations last Sunday (Feb. 14) to conduct the first bridge-building event for Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian youth in Lebanon. Through a day-long series of fun team activities, the event helped overcome hostility and break down barriers of sectarian division in Lebanon. 

Read more about Bridge-Building activities in Lebanon.

In addition, our team strives to stay in contact with the youth groups from the Palestinian camp Shatila, the Lebanese/ Syrian Youth group from Barja and the Syrian students from grade 4 and 5 from the Syrian Refugee School in Choueifet, that already participated in the Forgiveness Program. We scheduled a meeting with every youth group individually once a month and plan a monthly event with all of the groups together to work on reconciliation between these opposing people groups. For this month we will have an activity by the sea with surfing opportunities and games.

During our work in the Shatila camp we have recognized a need of relief work within the camp. We got in contact with 3 families that are in need of medical or financial support that we want to address. Therefor we plan on visiting these families every other week, to bring the message of forgiveness and as well provide for their urgent needs.

Ramy 6
Ramy with his family.

Furthermore, we got in contact with Youth for Christ Lebanon (YFC Inc.) who want to dedicate this year 2016 to reconciliation. The IFI Lebanon Team will provide a one-day staff Training for YFC staff to introduce the Forgiveness Program and discuss further cooperation.

A group of Ex-Fighters of the civil war that aim to promote peace and reconciliation through their testimonies on schools and other institutions have invited Ramy to introduce the Forgiveness Educational Program to this group to discuss further cooperation as well.

Another opportunity has opened up with a community center called “Tahadde” that is placed in one of the poorest living areas for Lebanese. We are invited to do the program with their youth- and women groups and plan on doing so in April.

Ramy Darwich Taleb

You talk about forgiveness as a process, one that can take time. I find that as I go along the path of forgiveness, that I slip into revenge-seeking. I do not mean anything violent, just some nastiness or even verbal disrespect. Do you think this will delay my forgiveness process?

We are all imperfect forgivers and so we cannot think of forgiveness as a straight line from the start to the finish. We go back and forth with forgiveness. At times, we see the one who offended us as possessing inherent worth. Then we might have a dream about the person and we wake up angry and do not want to even think about the person. The key here is to understand that the process is not a straight line. Have patience with yourself. Try to have patience with the one whom you are forgiving. In time, this back-and-forth will even out and improvements in forgiving are likely as you continue to persevere in the forgiveness process.

Joy in the Journey

Forgiveness is hard work. I sometimes refer to it as “surgery of the heart.” No one looks forward to the process of surgery, but when people look beyond the procedure to what lies ahead once healing occurs, it is easier to bear.

The process of forgiveness includes bearing pain and finding meaning in suffering. It Pain-Joyrequires pain, emotional pain, as we look directly at another’s injustice and struggle to see him or her as a person, just as I-the-forgiver am a person.

The joy comes, I think, in triumphing through a challenging process and becoming stronger once the process is complete. You stand stronger because you have not let injustice defeat you.

Heart-ForgivenessYou stand stronger because you are now more capable of receiving the other back into your life, if he or she can be trusted. You may play a part in this person’s positively changed ways as you stand strong.

You stand stronger because you know you have a way of meeting the next injustice, and the next, and the next after that.

Having a new heart as a result of forgiving and becoming stronger and helping others get stronger is a cause for joy.