Tagged: “emotional forgiveness”

How strong must one be to be able to forgive well? I feel like it takes a lot of strength—possibly too much strength—to forgive someone who has treated you terribly. In this case, forgiving almost seems unreasonable. It takes too much for a person to forgive.

This question demonstrates a remarkable level of understanding. As humans, we are prone to being initially excited about starting a new diet, or a new workout regimen, or any other discipline, only to lose interest after a few weeks. It might not require a lot of willpower to forgive one person because the forgiver is concentrated, engaged in something new (and new things tend to capture our attention when they are useful), and are helpful to the one who forgives. Yet, what about the third, fourth, or tenth time someone tries to forgive others? This is where we need what I refer to in the book, The Forgiving Life, as a strong will—the kind of will that perseveres through difficult times. However, we do not have to go through the process of forgiveness—the second, third, and tenth efforts—by ourselves. When we are practicing physical fitness, it helps to have an exercise partner. When it comes to forgiving, and staying at it, try to look for someone who can be a teammate in the forgiving process, someone who supports you. The other person’s strong will can then support and strengthen yours, and vice versa. It takes this kind of will to be physically fit. It takes this kind of will to be forgivingly fit.

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One of my friends recently mentioned a strong forgiver, Corrie Ten Boom, from World War II.  What did she do that was so forgiving and, if this was in the context of forgiving the enemy, would this even be appropriate?

Corrie Ten Boom survived a concentration camp during World War II. She wrote a book, The Hiding Place, about her experiences. Following the war, she was in a German church talking about the virtues of forgiveness. After the talk, people came up to greet her. Much to her horror, the SS officer who abused her years ago extended his hand to her, asking for forgiveness. She did not want to grant it. She then said a quick prayer and, as she reports, she felt something like an electrical surge go through her right arm and so she was able both to shake his hand and at the same time to offer a love for this man that surprised even her. Without debating the issue of prayer here, she did experience something that day that was genuine forgiveness and was both sudden and complete. The more you practice forgiveness, the more easily you will be able to practice it in a genuine way, at least at times and for certain circumstances.

The experience of forgiving by Corrie Ten Boom definitely looks legitimate to me. After all, the experience was still with her long after the event as she wrote clearly and passionately about it in her now very popular book. Even if others disagree with her choice to forgive a Nazi officer, this was her own free will choice to do so. Thus, it is an appropriate act of forgiving.

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Sometimes, when I begin the process of forgiving someone, I later decide I’m not ready to forgive anymore. If I stop the forgiveness process for a while is this a bad thing to do? I mean, if I tell the other person that I will attempt to forgive him, I almost feel compelled to carry on with the process without any breaks in the action. I dislike being coerced into something as private as forgiving someone.

I want to politely challenge an assumption you hold. You are still in the process of forgiving even if you have changed your mind and decided not to forgive at this time. Occasionally, the process compels us to take much-needed pauses.

It takes work to forgive, so please take a break when you need it and try not to feel a sense of guilt in doing this.

Consider it in this manner. Let’s say you are embarking on a multi-day cross-country bicycle journey. Have you stopped being on the voyage after the first day, when you put your bicycle away and head to bed? Naturally, the response is no—you haven’t stopped. You are just at a point in your journey where you need to take a break.

Consider forgiveness in the same manner. There isn’t a race to the finish. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a process that requires patience and downtime. Try to resist the need to be constantly vigilant when it comes to your forgiveness. Grant yourself permission to stop, to take a break, and then to begin again.

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If someone is unable to forgive, would you consider that to be a weakness in his character?

It takes time to become more proficient in any virtue, according to both Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle. As a result, we all have a certain “character weakness” as we are constantly working on improving our ability to forgive, or to be courageous, or to be more fair.

What does it mean to “become more proficient”? As we repeatedly exercise forgiveness and develop as forgivers, we:

1) have a deeper understanding of what forgiveness is and is not;

2) are more inclined to put it into practice even in the face of considerable grief brought on by major injustices;

3) proceed through the process more efficiently; and

4) finish the process more fully so that, after forgiving one person for one unjust incident, we feel less bitterness and more compassion.

We should be understanding of individuals who find it difficult to forgive as we are all at different stages of the forgiveness process. A person’s current struggles do not indicate a lack of moral character. Alternatively, it could imply that a person is developing in the moral virtue of forgiveness and is encountering a challenge on this particular path with a particular person. This does not imply that the person will experience difficulties with a different person or situation tomorrow. Each of us is becoming more and more proficient in this virtue as we willingly say yes to it and then practice it.

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To be honest with you, I have never been a big fan of forgiveness. It is for this reason: It seems that when people forgive they are passively giving in to the other’s unfairness.

When people forgive, they should not forget about justice. Forgive and ask something of the other. Ask the person to change the behavior that you see as unfair. This can take courage and patience, which hardly are passive or a giving in to the other’s injustice.

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