Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Four Must-Know Lessons about Forgiveness

Recently, I saw a TV clip about a man who was shot and killed many years ago during a robbery. In the piece, the murdered man’s grown son met and hugged and forgave his father’s murderer.

I know the anguish of losing a father as a child, and the lifelong ache of growing up without him. If instead of cancer, another man had killed my dad, could I bring myself to forgive him?

Even when people hurt us by accident, forgiving can be hard. If someone harms us on purpose, forgiveness can feel impossible. Like most people, I’ve had my share of opportunities to practice forgiveness. The toughest for me was forgiving Jim’s ex-wife. I thought I’d faced my harshest forgiveness test, when weeks before my step-daughter’s wedding, her mother left a phone message uninviting our entire side of the family to the wedding. She gloated that it had been her plot all along.

A year later when my stepdaughter was pregnant with our first grandchild, her mother outdid herself on the forgiveness meter. She issued an ultimatum to Jim’s son and daughter—I won’t share my grandchildren. Pick me or your father to be in your life.

Forgiving her, and them for accepting her ultimatum, has taught me more than I ever wanted to learn about forgiveness. I’ve yearned for my father most of my life. How can Jim’s children purposely waste theirs? Even all these years later, as Father’s Day approaches and old hurts resurface, it helps to remind myself of the four must-know lessons I’ve learned about Forgiveness. 

1)    Forgiveness is for me, not the other person. I learned the hard way that holding grudges and obsessing about revenge causes me as much or more pain than the original offense. Forgiving turns off the resentment-replay machine in my head, so I can let go and move on.


2)    My own expectations contribute to being hurt by others. Other people don’t always make the choices I think they “should.” I feel calmer and happier  when I accept others as they are and don’t “should” on them.


3)    I feel best about myself when I practice the golden and platinum rules—treat others the way I want to be treated, or even better the way they want to be treated. I can hope others behave a certain way in return—I can’t control their actions.


4)    Forgiveness makes room for hope. Sometimes we have to let go of something—even something precious to us—to make room for something else. Hope helps me believe things will turn out the way they are supposed to and the future will make sense of the past.

Forgiving has a magical ability to open our hearts and make room for something better.

Are there resentments you have held for too long? Is it time to lighten your load and forgive?

And, isn’t feeling good and having a happier life, ultimately the best revenge?


  1. Carol,

    So I'm not sure I could forgive the murderer of my father or anyone close to me. I just cannot imagine feeling anything better than sadness for that person.

    But this post rings true to me because I missed a chance to forgive, and the memory is a dull ache that never goes away.

    A relative with whom I thought I had a good relationship cut off communications with the whole family because of something one of us (not me) did. Admittedly, I was relieved to have her out of my life because she was high maintenance emotionally, but she also had a crazy good heart sometimes. We were estranged for five years, and then I heard she had cancer.

    I didn't reach out to her; I followed her edict that she didn't want any communication. I felt that she would reach out if she really wanted to reconnect.

    Of course she did not reach out to us. Some of the estranged spoke to her during her illness, but I remained stubborn. I was surprised and saddened to learn of her death. I guess I didn't expect it to happen, and I have never forgiven myself for not reconnecting.

    I agree that forgiveness heals your own soul, and all the better if it helps the other person.

    Forgiveness really is divine.

    1. Chris, the whole topic of forgiving ourselves is another volume of blog posts. thanks for reminding us that life is often shorter than we expect.