To Forgive or Not to Forgive
My previous post elicited a good deal of response. It's obviously a subject that many of us have given some thought to. Some good points have been made in the comments. I'm still pondering the subject of forgiveness.
Let's define forgiveness as the letting go of grudges, anger, or resentment resulting from a perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake. In some situations it could also mean ceasing to demand punishment or restitution, granting a pardon, or bestowing mercy. We can look at forgiveness as something we give to others, but we can also look at it as a gift we give to ourselves.
Does forgiveness have to be accepted to be valid? Is it required for the offending party be apologetic or contrite in order for us to forgive? In other words, is forgiveness always a two-party transaction, or can I forgive someone who isn't sorry, or isn't present to receive it?
Is forgiveness more about the letting go on my part? Is it synonymous with acceptance?
And what about the Bible verse in the book of Matthew that enjoins believers to forgive someone "not up to seven times, but seventy times seven!" I'm not at all sure I could do that.
I welcome your input on all of the above thoughts.
For me, forgiveness is the act of me letting go, no so much of absolving someone of what they have done, but of releasing my hurt and anger in relation to it. In cases of grudges and smaller issues, I can agree to "love the doer, hate the deed". I can also go as far as to admit that most people, self included, were probably doing the very best they could with what they had (emotionally and mentally) at the time, even if there best really wasn't good enough.
Where I run into problems is the handful of people who I've encountered in life that knowingly and actively did something to harm or endanger another person, be it physically, mentally or spiritually. There is more than one way to break a person down, to destroy them, or least to attempt that. I put child abusers and domestic abusers in this category. I also include people who drink to excess or abuse drugs and then go out and injure or kill someone as a result of their ability to drive safely. No matter what the underlying issues in all these cases, the action itself was still a choice, and the choice was one of total disregard for the other person or persons involved. They have demonstrated a complete lack of caring, and most often a complete unwillingness to take responsibility for those actions. I can't find a way to come to terms with that. I can, in some cases, feel compassion, if I know the offender is also emotionally damaged, but I cannot bring myself to truly forgive, or to accept what happened and just move on from it. No, I do not accept that it ever has to be, no excuses accepted.
I realize before anyone feels the need to say it, that I am being harsh and yes... unforgiving... toward such people. Maybe not the people, but the choices they've made, the crimes they've committed. I might feel differently if the person is repentant, realizes that what they did was terribly wrong. Then.... maybe.
Another situation that is all too common is the "doormat syndrome" in which a partner is forgiven over and over for the same offense, such as abusive behavior or infidelity. Sometimes they even demonstrate great remorse after each incident... but the awareness doesn't last, and it doesn't prevent them from repeating the cycle over and over. For me, that is not a situation requiring forgiveness. It is time to draw the line in the sand and say "Enough, I will not be a part of your life if you choose to do this one more time, I am done with it"! Note that I'm not saying what they can or cannot do, I am saying I won't be a part of it, I won't allow myself to be their doormat. I was a doormat for years and years, and I have friends who still are. There comes a time when one has to find the courage and self respect to say STOP!
A similar situation occurs with friends and family who prove themselves to be destructive influences in our lives. Sometimes, sadly, when we have experienced the same hurts and negative actions over and over, with the cycle of forgiveness and recurrence repeating itself endlessly, we have to come to the point of saying "I acknowledge that we are related, but to allow you to have an active role in my life is not healthy for me, I need to maintain a safe distance from you, be it physically, emotionally, or both. I do not want or need your drama in my life."
Have you ever had to tell this to a friend or family member? Have you been able to stand your ground? It isn't an easy choice, and there are many who would say it's wrong. I am not one of them. Sometimes when we've given a person as many chances as we can to get it right, there comes a time to say "Enough, I have no more energy to devote to this relationship".
Forgiveness is an issue I'm still working on in my life. I've made tremendous strides and I'm proud of myself for the individuals I have been able to forgive, and the grudges I've been able to let go. But there are still those few that gnaw at me, that weigh me down, because I don't like feeling negative about anyone. I'm hoping the day will come when I can fully release those resentments, when I can honestly say "I am free"!