I have been fortunate to go through most of my life without the need to do much forgiving. Yes there have been exchanges of angry words and disappointments at how I have been treated, but with a few exceptions, nothing that has inflicted deep wounds.
nonetheless from those painful episodes where I have needed to forgive this is what I have discovered about forgiveness.
1. Forgiveness is a gift I choose to offer
Forgiveness is not something I barter. You give me your repentance and I’ll trade you my forgiveness. It is something that I offer to the other as an act of grace and generosity.
2. Forgiveness is my choosing to seek the good of the person who wounded me.
The popular saying has it that “to forgive is to forget”. Taken literally that’s rubbish. When something deeply significant has happened to you, you can’t forget it. It resides in your memory, just waiting to be recalled. I sometimes find myself replaying the scenarios from the past in my mind, fantasising about what I would do differently, the delicious ways I would become the wounder rather than the wounded. They are just fantasies of an idle mind. The real work of forgiveness is the decision that I will act with love toward the one who wounded me. If wrongdoing creates a sense of moral debt, forgiveness is my decision that I will release the other from that debt and love them, do what I can to secure their well-being.
3. Forgiveness requires empathy
When I am wounded it is easy to slip into thinking of the wounder as a one-dimensional figure, a nasty figure absent of redeeming features like Iago in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, a horrible person with horrible motivations who does horrible things. That makes them “other”, which enables me to dehumanise them, justify my anger and my revenge (even if revenge only be a fantasy). Yet the reality is no-one is one dimension, no-one is without redeeming features. Forgiveness has taught me to see the whole person, to try to understand his/her behaviour (there is always a reason people do what they do), and to recognise his/her strengths.
For me, forgiveness is sometimes instant, but more often than not something that takes time and discipline.