“Why not just accept what happened to you?” is a question I have heard many times. When a person is encouraged to accept what happened, this may or may not include forgiveness. Forgiveness and acceptance are different.
When one accepts what happened, this is a kind of surrender in a positive sense. It is not a caving in to problems or acquiescing to unjust actions from others. Acceptance is knowing that the world is imperfect and that bad things can happen. To accept is to stop fighting against what already happened. To accept is to resign oneself to the fact that the past event was unpleasant, but now we are in the present, away from that event.
Forgiveness, in contrast, is to offer goodness to those who have created the past unpleasant or decidedly unjust event. Forgiveness is an active reaching out to the other in the hope that the two might reconcile, although actual reconciliation may not occur.
A forgiver still can accept what happened, but not then be passive regarding the other person. The forgiver actively struggles to get rid of resentment and to offer kindness, respect, generosity, and/or love to the other person.
While acceptance can help us adjust to adversity, it, by itself, often is not sufficient to extinguish a lingering resentment toward others. Forgiveness is the active process for this.
Forgiveness and acceptance: They can work together, but they should not be equated as synonymous.
Forgiving in its essence is never immoral because it is part of the moral good of this world. When you offer unconditional kindness and even love to someone who hurt you, while protecting yourself against further wrong, this is goodness itself. Yet, when a person does not fully understand what forgiveness is, it is this distorted notion of forgiveness that can be inappropriate. An example is using the act of forgiving to exert power over the other. The “forgiver” might constantly remind the other of his or her offense and how hard and noble it is to forgive. This, of course, is not forgiveness at all but a distortion of it.
Learn more at What Is Forgiveness.
Recently, I have been hearing people say that forgiveness is transcendence. By this they seem to mean that as people forgive, then the past injustices do not affect them any more. They have risenabove the pain, the anguish, the sadness, and the anger. They have moved on.
If this is all that forgiveness is, then forgiveness is not a moral virtue. A moral virtue, such as justice or patience, is for people. It reaches out to people. It aids and supports people by putting the particular virtue into action and that action points toward people. When I exercise justice, for example, I honor the agreement that is part of a contract into which we both have entered. I am patient by restraining from harsh words when in a long line or when those who are my teammates at work are slowing things down.
Moral virtues are concerned with goodness expressed toward other people.
If forgiveness is part of love—a moral virtue—then it cannot be only about transcending the past because one can transcend that past by being neutral toward those who have been unfair, who were responsible for the hurt. The forgiver need not enter into a direct relationship with the injuring person if he or she continues to cause harm.
Yet, the forgiver wishes the other well, as Lewis Smedes in his 1984 book, Forgive and Forget has said. The forgiver is willing to do good toward the other, if the other changes abusive behavior. Being neutral might be part of the pathway toward forgiving, but it is not its end point.
The end point of forgiving is to express love, as best one can, toward those who have not loved the forgiver. Even if a person cannot develop that love for whatever reason, loving the other nonetheless is the endpoint of true forgiveness.
– Robert Enright
Transcending the past might be a consequence of forgiving, but it is not forgiving itself…..if forgiveness is a moral virtue.
Learn more about the definition of forgiveness at Forgiveness Defined then read Dr. Enright’s best-selling book Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. This self-help book is for people who have been deeply hurt by another and who are caught in a vortex of anger, depression, and resentment. It walks readers through the forgiveness process Dr. Enright developed to reduce anxiety and depression while increasing self-esteem and hopefulness.
The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com – You’ve probably read or heard the story, but it’s worth repeating with a final twist.
In the early morning hours of June 5, 2002 — the day after she received awards for excellence in physical fitness and academics at Bryant Middle School in Salt Lake City, Utah — 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home at knifepoint. The next day, the FBI told her parents, “If she’s not home in the first 48 hours, she’s probably not coming home.”
Smart did not return home quickly despite a massive regional search effort involving up to 2,000 volunteers each day, as well as dogs and planes. The search continued for weeks.
Her abductors, homeless street preacher Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee, held her at encampments in the woods 18 miles from her home and in San Diego County, CA. They kept her shackled to a tree with a metal cable to keep her from escaping.
Nine agonizing months of captivity
Mitchell repeatedly raped Smart during her captivity, sometimes multiple times daily, told her she would never see her family again if she tried to escape, and regularly threatened to kill her. He often forced her to drink alcohol and take drugs to lower her resistance, and he both starved her and fed her garbage.
Smart endured the unimaginable for nine agonizing months before she was spotted with Mitchell and Barzee in Sandy, Utah, on March 12, 2003 by a couple who had seen Mitchell’s photos on the news. Smart – disguised in a gray wig, sunglasses, and veil – was recognized by officers during questioning, and Mitchell and Barzee were arrested.
After years of delays and mental evaluations, Mitchell was found guilty of kidnapping and transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in sexual activity. On December 11, 2010, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. For her role, Barzee eventually was sentenced to concurrent terms of fifteen years in state and federal prison.
Forgiveness is not acceptance
For Smart, the ordeal carried a heavy price tag but she says she has long since forgiven her captors and has not allowed it to define her life. During a recent presentation at Indiana University Kokomo, she explained it this way:
“When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a victim anymore. I see an activist, I see a wife, I see a mother, I see a friend, I see someone I’m proud to be.
It’s not what happens to us, it’s what we decide to do next, how we move forward, how we pursue our lives.
It’s not the acceptance of the action done against you. I don’t think forgiveness is saying, ‘It’s OK that you raped me.’ It’s not saying, ‘We’re going to be friends now.’
I will never be OK with the act of rape. There is no circumstance on earth in which I will say rape is OK.
It is not that you accepted the evil that was done to you. It is an acknowledgment that it has happened, and that you have dealt with your anger, your grief, and your pain, and you are able to then move on.
It’s loving yourself enough to let go of your pain and move forward.
If I get to the end of my life, if I die, and I find out religion is one big lie, I still won’t regret it because it’s helped me to live a better life, to be a better person, to care about people, to believe in forgiveness, to believe in hope.”
Since her abduction, Smart has gone on to become an advocate for missing persons and victims of sexual assault. With encouragement from her family, Smart has stepped into the public eye, writing two best-selling books, and lobbying with her father for laws to protect children including the Protect Act of 2003.
Smart also founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, to raise awareness of predatory child crimes. She is now married to Matthew Gilmour; the couple has two young children.
Kidnapped at 14, held captive and raped, Elizabeth Smart says now: I was lucky – The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com
Elizabeth Smart shares story of hope, triumph, forgiveness – Indiana University Kokomo
Elizabeth Smart Biography – BIOGRAPHY.COM
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The Daily Signal, Waco, Texas – Jeremiah Thomas—a 16-year-old all-star, state champion football player from Waco, TX—was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive bone cancer just four months ago. Since then, he has battled chemotherapy, radiation, a collapsed lung, and paralysis from the waist down.
Unfortunately, Jeremiah has also had to endure despicable scorn and taunts from many social media trolls. With perhaps only weeks left to live, Jeremiah has been accosted numerous times on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with some deplorable messages:
“Jeremiah … You aren’t dead yet? God, do your job!” taunted one anonymous writer.
“Good Riddance,” another posted to Jeremiah’s prayer group page on Facebook.
And Jeremiah’s mother, Kendra Thomas, quoted one person as saying Jeremiah has “a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic [sic], hateful” agenda, and another as saying “He’s garbage and is suffering as he deserves.”
All that hate and vitriol was generated because Jeremiah made a “legacy wish” through the 38-year-old Make-A-Wish Foundation that some social media respondents apparently found offensive. As his final wish, Jeremiah dared to call for the abolition of abortion in Texas.
When that wish circulated around to Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, he called Jeremiah and spoke with him in his hospital bed in June about passing a bill to abolish abortion in the state in order to make Jeremiah’s “legacy wish” a reality.
We have grown up in a culture of death, sexual confusion, immorality and fatherlessness. This culture of death I speak of consists of abortion, homosexuality and suicide. One-third of our generation has been wiped out due to abortion; 60 million babies have been murdered. Over 25 million people have died as a result of AIDS. We have been handed a bill of goods that has completely destroyed us. In our nation, we have chosen death and received the curse.
While struggling with his terminal illness–known as osteoblastic osteosarcoma–would certainly be enough suffering for most people, Jeremiah has been handling the hate mail gracefully.
“Its kind of sickening,” Jeremiah says. “I pray for them…What has happened to people to make them think like that?”
Jeremiah’s mother adds, “Jesus has given him a special grace to forgive. He tells his siblings, ‘Just forgive. We can’t return evil for evil.’”
Jeremiah’s family had set up a GoFundMe page three months ago to help raise money for surgery. It had reached $118,659 as of Aug. 11.