I am no expert in forgiveness. But in my search to give and receive forgiveness I have learned several lessons about what forgiveness is not.
#1 Forgiveness is not forgetting in the sense of letting people continue to hurt you. You can remove yourself from dangerous or negative situations and still be a forgiving person. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone who is hurting you is to stop giving them the opportunity to continue hurting you.
#2 Forgiveness is not excusing. A professional counsellor once told me that I would know when I had forgiven if I could say that the people who hurt me did the best they could do. I couldn’t disagree more. First of all, I can’t know for sure if someone did or didn’t do the best they could do because I can’t see their heart. Second, we all have wounds and our wounds predispose us to hurt each other in ingrained, almost scripted ways but that is completely different from saying people always do the best they can do. If we always do the best we can do we have no free will and no reason to try to do better. That’s one philosophy I just can’t stomach. Third, if there’s a true excuse for what you did then you don’t need to be forgiven because you are already excused for it.
#3 Forgiveness is not restitution. I guess what I mean is that getting forgiveness is different than paying something back. If I get mad and throw and smash my daughter’s cell phone I should definitely buy her a new one. But buying a new cell phone doesn’t automatically make me forgiven. As a separate issue she can choose to forgive or not forgive me for what I did. It’s also not the same as trusting me again – like letting me hold her cell phone when I’m angry – but that goes more to point number one. By the way, I didn’t really smash my daughter’s cell phone or any other cell phones – it was just an example. I considered going with the neighbor’s broken window story but I think that one gets overdone.
#4 Forgiveness isn’t the same as ‘making up’. You can’t always make nice with someone – but you can always forgive.
#5 Forgiveness doesn’t always take away the pain. Sometimes you do everything you can do and still have to live with the consequences. That works for the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven.
Well, that’s a start. I have a feeling I have some more learning and some more blog posts about this topic inside of me. What lessons have you learned about forgiveness? I really want to know.