Friday, November 11, 2011

How Do We Learn Forgiveness?

I've been reading Spiritual Evolution by George Vaillant.  It is very enlightening.  The chapter I am reading now focuses on forgiveness.  He lists the physical benefits for individuals of forgiveness like reducing anxiety, blood pressure, stress on the nervous system, and peace of mind.  He also reports the benefits of forgiveness for countries or societies or civilizations.  Can we really ever live without the specter of war hanging over us? 

On a personal note, we can stop the pain that injustice from family, friends, or co-workers causes by forgiving them.  Forgiving is not always easy, and it helps to understand what forgiveness is and what it is not.

Forgiveness does NOT:
  1. Accept wrong acts--A friend who says something hurtful does not need to suffer the same insult to "show her how it feels," but she may need to be told the extent of the damage her words have caused.  There is a critical difference between being angry at an insult and taking vengence.
  2. Forget wrong acts--Forgiveness is a learning experience.  We should not forget that bad things happened but learn how to prevent them from recurring.
  3. Accept injustice--Forgiveness is not accepting injustice to "keep peace."  Battered wives who accept pain and insult continue the injustice and are never have a chance to forgive.
  4. Remove past pain--Forgiveness does not remove the pain suffered in the past, but it can prevent it from continuing.  Forgiveness removes the gnawing anger at a past insult that continues to destroy present communication.
  5. Excuse the wrongs--Forgiveness does not excuse the wrong, but it gives a chance for the relationship and the behavior to change.  No excuse makes it O.K. to hurt others.
  6. Accept repetition of wrong act--Forgiveness does not give license for bad behavior to continue. 
Forgiveness is a mature life skill.  Children and youth often forgive because a parent is forcing them .  The child who faces this issue may find forgiveness very difficult and perhaps fail to understand the principle.  Children are more prone to tit-for-tat retaliation than forgiveness.  Maturity cures some kinds of unforgiveness.

Sometimes forgiveness is a product of empathy--when you understand the needs and feelings of the person who offended you, forgiveness is almost automatic. 

Jesus demonstrated many of the principles of forgiveness in his ministry and practice.  A woman taken in the act of sin was brought to him by the upstanding men of the town wanting him to pronounce judgment on her.  Only the righteous could accuse her, but none of them past that test.  His forgiveness was implied when he said he did not condemn her, but there was more to it than that.  With the forgiveness came the obligation to sin no more. 

In the prayer he taught his disciples there is this petition: Forgive us our trepasses as we forgive those who trepass against us.  Forgiveness is intended to be passed around.  We forgive each other.  When he was dying on the cross, he forgave those who participated saying, "Forgive them for they know not what they do." Being stupid is sometimes cause for forgiveness, but understanding more makes you responsible for more.  Forgiveness is a mature response.

1 comment:

Hannah said...

What a great's such a mystery how forgiving makes you feel better and how you can balance forgiveness with a realistic view of someone's character.

I really enjoyed this one! Thanks, Gayle.