Telling another that they need to forgive is wasted breath.
I commented once in these posts that to tell another person that they need to forgive is to stand in judgement upon them. In effect, that statement says, “I know what’s best for you. Listen to my wisdom. It’s not just that you’re hurting yourself by failing to forgive. You’re also failing to live up to my standards.”
Quite aside from being judgmental, telling another that they must forgive is also pretty useless. “You need to” is essentially a criticism of the way in which someone is handling difficult and likely justified feelings. In essence, the command to forgive says to a wounded person, “Yeah, they were wrong, but if you haven’t forgiven them, then you are wronger”. (Excuse the atrocious grammar! That is an actual statement once made to me by a person whose existence in my life is probably best forgotten.)
Providing such advice, especially when unsolicited, to an adult who is enduring the difficult experience of unforgiveness is simply futile; nothing but wasted breath. The implied criticism merely engages another’s automatic defense system, resulting in irritation and anger–exactly the opposite of what one intends.
Rarely, though, the answer to that officious command is a deeply drawn breath and the words, “Yes, I know that. I even want to forgive. But how?!”
I’ve spent long years working out that puzzle for myself, and the answer that I’ve finally landed upon is this: To forgive, one must also retain personal integrity by speaking both truth and justice.
Even when I don’t believe that I can forgive, or am ready to do so, or even really want to forgive–I say it, anyway. But I also say the rest. I speak with conviction the part that those who so blithely recommend forgiveness seem to carefully ignore: the element that vindicates my feelings; that validates my anger so that I can, at last, release it. I speak the essence that pats me comfortingly on the back and reassures me that I did not deserve this; I state with certainty the words that acknowledge my pain.
When the wounds that I’ve been dealt rerun themselves on the movie screen of my mind, I have finally learned to say, “I forgive you. I do not exonerate you. What you did was vile, wrong, cruel abusive, hurtful, and you bear completely the shame of your behavior. I do not absolve you. You owe a debt, not to me, but to the Universe, and you must work out your own absolution. You must decide and perform your own penance. But I do forgive you.”
This statement allows me (as I have read and heard, over and over again) to forgive the person without excusing what they did. It permits me to forgive without belittling the anguish of my experience. It states that my anger is justified, my pain real, and that I will not blindly lie down like a doormat beneath the feet of my oppressor. It returns to me my personal power: the power stolen from me by another’s terrible words or actions.
I forgive YOU. I forgive the soul, the spirit, the divine spark within you. But I do not exonerate you. I cannot, in fact, acquit you, for you are to blame. Nor can I absolve you. Only a Higher Power can do so. You must achieve that absolution by both acknowledging the wrong you did and working in some manner to resolve the debt you now owe.
Speaking these words with conviction franks the letter of my exercise in forgiveness, while in no way providing amnesty for those who have wronged me. It reasserts my rights while allowing me to extend both mercy and justice to the individual who has harmed me.
It is, in fact, so complete a statement, such a perfect means of clearing the logjam of old bitterness and futile anger, that it astonishes me to realize that it took me nearly 70 years to find the technique; that none of those who prated at me about the need to forgive were able to provide me with this simple key to genuine forgiveness.
Having stumbled upon this, my personal truth and cure, I am at last empowered with the ability to forgive. “I forgive YOU. I do not exonerate you. You are, no matter what your circumstances or reasons, to blame. I do not absolve you. You’ll have to work out your own penance. But I do, absolutely and completely, forgive you.”
Somewhere, somehow, I suspect, even hope, that someone is speaking this exact statement to and about me. I am far indeed from sainthood, and the number of wounds I have dealt others—remembered or forgotten, realized or unrealized—is, I’m sure, legion.
I hope they will forgive me. But they need never either exonerate or absolve me. I accept my blame, and I will work to absolve my offenses.