August 2012



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Forgiveness: Ideas I Struggle With

My most basic problem with forgiveness is just that I don't really know what it means. It doesn't mean you forget what happened. It doesn't necessarily mean that the other person doesn't face justice. It doesn't mean that you aren't hurt or that there aren't consequences. It doesn't mean that the relationship with the other person can go back to the same relationship you've had prior. I don't understand what forgiving someone means is all.

Media on this subject is confusing too. Some of them claim forgiving is good for your health. You let go of grudges, you're lighter, you less likely to be stressed or depressed. Others claim that not forgiving is the right thing to do. After all there are somethings that can't be forgiven apparently? Likewise sometimes the stress of trying to let go of an offense is too much. Sometimes remembering why you struggle can motivate someone and move him or her forward. I don't really know because I can't really pin down what forgiveness means or what it does.

Religiously forgiveness is muddled to me. When I was Catholic, of course it was huge within that faith system. Apologizing and forgiving were huge. But it seemed to me that no one ever trusted forgiveness that was given. I wonder what they were looking for and whether they were granting tat something to the people they forgave. I wonder if the kind of offense made a difference in their ability or if like God all offenses are equally grave if you aren't really sorry.

As a kid I remember being forced to accept apologies. I must have been 12 before I realized I didn't have to accept apologies and thinking that perhaps I shouldn't if the other person wasn't sorry or if I wasn't ready to let the slight go. The first time I refused to grant forgiveness, my family took me to meet with our local priest. It was similar to the meeting we'd had prior when I refused to apologize because I didn't believe I'd done anything wrong.

The main difference was that instead of just trying to compel me to say I forgave this other person, my preacher congratulated me on my desire to be honest and knowing my own feelings. He then tried to work me through to the process of forgiveness. This wasn't going to happen. I don't even remember what the slight was now. I remember I was angry, that this was not the first time this person had done this to me and that regardless of whether it was intentional or thoughtless my relationship with this person was going to change. Things weren't going to be the same, I was angry and this person should feel bad, why should I release them of that if their apology only made me more angry? What would the words be for me but noise? My priest tried to tell me intentions count for something and regret should make everything all right. I asked him why should I allow myself to be hurt continually for someone else's thoughtlessness, and then have to accept apology for it. It seemed too close to the victim claiming responsibility and I wasn't about to do that.

Poor Father Connelly, he was completely unprepared for me. I had been stubborn and angry when we'd last talked (and the guy had private chats with me a lot when I was growing up too many theological and complex questions for my parents to deal with). The year in between had made me more articulate in a way he wasn't ready to deal with. Kids don't generally flatly reject a priest's statement or counter it with their own feelings and thoughts. I guess people don't tell priests often that they don't believe not forgiving does damage to their immortal soul, or that if damage is done it is no greater than the damage of issuing a forced false apology would be on their soul, perhaps it's less. People apparently also don't tell priest that they would rather preserve their own souls as best as possible than help someone else's soul through forgiving them. We never spoke to my parents about what specifically had been said between us, only that I would not choose forgiveness and hopefully I'd be in confession soon for this slight.

I was lucky though, my priest didn't scare me, and I was already rejecting the idea that an all loving all knowing God would give me free will and then not intent for me to do what I saw as right. So many of my conversations with the man over the years could have been very intimidating otherwise.

Now a days my Gods say very little, if anything about forgiveness. Divinity is all for letting go of wrongs but this doesn't require forgetting. It's about not letting something ruin me, instead of trying to help assuage guilt in someone else for something they did/caused. I get to say "what you did was wrong, it hurt me and others in these ways and it hurt yourself like this" and then I get to set the conditions of how we move forward and what that incident will mean. I look at bad things as times for teaching and personal growth. Sometimes that growth means I avoid situations or people or tell them off or any number of not helpless open armed turn the other cheek acceptance. I'm not good at accepting when that's the only option provided.

My local God cares nothing for forgiveness. Hir occupation is on change and movement. So long as I'm not stagnant, how I'm keep moving and changing is irrelevant.

And for all this, sometimes I look at people and situations and my Catholic upbringing comes to the front and all I can think is that "This person needs to be forgiven". I suppose it could translate to "this person has baggage that they don't need to carry which correlates to guilt they have to let go and they need someone else to help them with". For me, forgiveness doesn't seem a good venue. Reiki, reflection, conversation with the other that does not have to lead in forgiveness are all possibilities. I just wonder if forgiveness is supposed to be about relieving burdens of others and whether or not the term has implications that are not required to relieve guilt. If so do these implications actually stymy the guilt relief process because we are asking to be healed by the person we have hurt in a way that might further hurt that person.