The Tricky Part of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a slippery slope that confuses almost everybody. (OK, maybe just me). What makes it slippery? Because forgiving is often confused with “I accept your apology and now we can pretend that never happened.” That might work in some cases, but not in others. Another difficult logic hill to climb, “Thanks for saying you are sorry. But your saying you are sorry does not obligate me to make you feel better. Or to let you continue mistreating me.”

forgiveness-heart-words-300x199The key to forgiveness on part of the person who was harmed is to stop expecting¬† retribution or punishment. The person who did the original harm has an obligation to do more than apologize. An empty apology with no intent to stop the harm is not worth the effort of forgiveness. An apology with no real effort to change, or worse, a deceptive appearance of change, isn’t worth an apology either.

Forgiveness is not an agreement that no harm was done. It’s simply an acceptance that the past cannot be changed. But to forgive, you do not have to return to trust. You do not have to place yourself in harm’s way to show that forgiveness is complete.

The best way to forgive some people is to accept them exactly as they are–but not to bring them back into your life. Once you have learned the lesson the relationship taught you, you can forgive the hurt, yes. But you do not have to continue the relationship. Some people are simply not trustworthy. And you are under no obligation to let them prove how trustworthy they are now. You already know that answer, and while they might not, you do not have to repeat what you have already learned–that someone who breaks a trust repeatedly will do so again. Yes, of course, some miracle may have happened, but you do not have to be the one to test the miracle.

Sometimes survival is a miracle, and escaping with your soul intact is enough. You can forgive, but there is no need to forget the important lessons. And certainly no need to repeat them.

Quinn McDonald has been puzzling out the tough knot of forgiveness, only to discover there is a difference between the generosity of the soul and the foolishness of repeating old mistakes.