Forgiveness, Part One

Forgiveness frees ourselvesForgiveness: Why We Resist It, and Why We Need It

A few years ago, I gave a presentation at my workplace on the topic of forgiveness. When I let my co-workers know what I would be speaking about forgiveness, my peers let out a collective groan, indicating their discomfort on the topic. This response is indicative of most individuals’ relationship with forgiveness; in fact, if you paused in this moment and checked in with your emotions and body sensations, I imagine you might notice reactions within your internal system, possibly a part trying to protect you from pain or suffering.

The Book of Forgiving

In order to gain a better understanding on the process of forgiveness, I turned to The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu. Much has been written about the suffering endured by Archbishop Tutu, as well as his extending of forgiveness when he could have instead pursued revenge. As a leader and advocate for reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa, he has gained first-hand knowledge of both the power and pain that comes with extending forgiveness to individuals and systems that have caused him harm.

Deliberate decision

Archbishop Tutu and Reverend Tutu define forgiveness as “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” They also make sure to describe what forgiveness is not: forgiveness, they write, is not condoning or forgetting the harmful actions of others. While we often consider forgiveness as an act of releasing others from judgement or punishment, it is actually an act that frees ourselves from the anger and hatred that can entangle us with those who have harmed us.

Mental anguish

The authors recognize the mental anguish that often accompanies even considering forgiving others, or ourselves. Below, you will find a reprinting of a meditation and prayer that they provide for those considering walking along this forgiveness journey. In Part 2 of this blog post, we’ll identify the four steps they detail as practical ways to facilitate the life-changing power of forgiveness.

The Prayer Before the Prayer, by Archbishop Tutu and Reverend Tutu

I want to be willing to forgive But I dare not ask for the will to forgive In case you give it to me And I am not yet ready I am not yet ready for my heart to soften I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried I am not yet ready for the journey I am not yet interested in the path I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness Grant me the will to want to forgive Grant it to me not yet but soon Can I even form the words Forgive me? Dare I even look? Do I dare to see the hurt I have caused? I can glimpse all the shattered pieces of that fragile thing That soul trying to rise on the broken wings of hope But only out of the corner of my eye I am afraid of it And if I am afraid to see How can I not be afraid to say Forgive me? Is there a place where we can meet? You and me The place in the middle The no man’s land Where we straddle the lines Where you are right And I am right too And both of us are wrong and wronged Can we meet there? And look for the place where the path begins The path that ends when we forgive

Also in this blog series are Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.