A Foundation for Your Future
For·give·ness: The action or process of forgiving or being forgiven. The intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense and lets go of some negative emotions like hatefulness, rage and vengefulness and stops seeking restitution from or punishment for the offender, even if it is legally or morally justified.
What Forgiveness Isn't
Forgiveness isn't just saying "I forgive you." Forgiveness doesn't happen by accepting an apology. Forgiveness isn't condoning or simply excusing what happened, as if it didn't matter or is now somehow just OK. Forgiveness doesn't mean you now have to be in a relationship with, hang around or even like the other person. Forgiveness doesn't mean you lack strong feelings. It might not mean the pain is all over and done with. It isn't something you can rush through.
What Forgiveness Is
Forgiveness is a process. Forgiveness is more of a change in your attitude than simply of your feelings. Here are 6 principles of forgiveness:
- You can't stop memories from popping up, but you can control your attention and how long you pay attention to what comes to mind. The Bible does not say "forgive and forget". It says God will "remember our offenses no more" (Isaiah 43:25, Hebrews 8:12). These are two very different things. God knows absolutely everything, past, present and future. He can't forget, but he can set things aside and never bring them up again, and so can you.
- Just because your anger or other feelings are real and even "justified", it doesn't mean they're helpful or necessary anymore. Acknowledge and accept your feelings, but don't ruminate on them by feeding them more of your memories.
- You can accept what happened to you without excusing it, condoning it, pardoning it or in any sense saying that it doesn't matter or didn't count. The slate isn't cleaned in the sense that everything is OK or normal. Trust is not automatically restored when something is forgiven.
- You can hope for or work for reconciliation if you want to, but you don't have to, and you shouldn't automatically expect it or demand it if you do want it.
- Forgiveness is not a simple once and done decision. Forgiveness is a mixture of commitment, attitude, habit of mind and process of healing or letting go. It's also not a feeling.
- Forgiveness is a path you take. Your path isn't the same as someone else's. There is no single right way to do it, although there are many ways that don't, won't or can't work.
Benefits of Forgiveness
Forgiveness frees you from many negative feelings and moods. You can more freely live your life and enjoy all your relationships more. Other people will enjoy you more. You will experience less stress in your body and your health will improve. You may also feel that your spiritual life has changed for the better.
How to Start Your Process
The best way to start or jumpstart your forgiveness process may be to start thinking about the hurt, pain or brokenness in the other person's life. If you can see them as being more human and just possibly somebody like everybody else or even yourself, you may begin to see a way to start forgiving.
In speaking with one friend about this, he said he had to realize the past didn't have to have power over him. He could choose to do this because he told his story to the people he trusted enough, that telling it to them started to change him and make him feel more in control of his life. This is what James 5:16a tells us.
Self-Forgiveness, Regret, Remorse and Repentance
Forgiving ourselves may be harder than accepting forgiveness from others or even forgiveness from God. We may be angry for being impulsive or reckless. We might feel sad, hurt or depressed because we hurt people we really care about. We can have all kinds of feelings for what we've done that leave us unable to forgive ourselves or really accept forgiveness from others.
We need to think about what it means to have regrets and what it means to repent. Regrets are what we can find lying behind our not wanting to or being able to forgive ourselves. We experience pain when we think about what we did, but we don't find a way to do anything about it. That's true regret. It's something like grief. It's also known as remorse.
Sometimes we experience regret when we are upset that we got caught having done something. This second kind of regret is false. It tends to blame others for our problems and the consequences rather than our own behavior. This is a childish kind of regret.
Repentance is something we can do with our "remorseful regrets." It's a good way to transform it and move forward. Repent comes from Latin and literally means we "think again" or "rethink." It also means that we have changed our minds, are turning around and doing things in a different way. If we aren't thinking differently and doing things differently, we haven't really repented.
Apologies and Amends
Apologies and amends are part of seeking forgiveness, demonstrating that we know we've done wrong and trying to make up for whatever damage we can. For the most part apologies are what we say. They're the "I'm sorries."
We can also live out our apologies. This is an expression of true repentance. What we do and how we live shows others we have been truly sorry and made changes so we can't or won't readily do what we once did. We call this kind of apology one way of making amends.
We also need to directly make amends to those we've hurt when we reasonably can. We make amends by taking actions, by doing something.
Sometimes we can do more harm by trying to directly make amends. Those we've hurt may be too traumatized by us to even talk to us on the phone. There may be court orders that limit or prevent contact. Some we've hurt may no longer be living. In these cases, we can do something "on their behalf," "in their honor" or do something symbolic. These should be considered sacred acts and done in the right manner, with the right attitude, at the right time and in the right place. This should reflect and memorialize the changes in you.
C.S Lewis on Forgiveness
"…I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, "Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before." But excusing says, "I see that you couldn't help it or didn't mean it; you weren't really to blame." If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two. Part of what at first seemed to be the sins turns out to be really nobody's fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven. If you had a perfect excuse, you would not need forgiveness; if the whole of your actions needs forgiveness, then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call "asking God's forgiveness" very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some "extenuating circumstances." We are so very anxious to point these things out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which excuses don't cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable."
Questions for Journaling
- What have you had trouble forgiving another person for?
- What have you had trouble forgiving yourself for?
- What aspects of forgiving are hard for you?
- Do you need to make amends to others or yourself? What do you think you might do?
Live on Purpose TV, How to Forgive Someone Who Isn't Sorry
Crappy Childhood Fairy, How to Apologize Beautifully,
Stephen Guise, How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism (2015)
Verses for the Week
Therefore talk about your sins with each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
[NOTE: The word translated as "sins" literally means "missing the mark" in target practice, so the word "sins", as used here, includes faults, weaknesses, shortcomings, personal failings and human limitations.]
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Prayer for the Week
Please help me see myself as you do. Help me experience your forgiveness this week. Help me see the others who have hurt me like you do as hurt and broken in their own ways and in need of forgiveness, too. I want to become free of those hurts and begin to heal the wounds that weigh me down and hold me back. I want to experience freedom and joy. Amen.
Making Amends in Your Steps to Recovery
JULY 23, 2015 | BY: John MacDougall, D.Min.
Restoring justice as much as possible
Addiction creates moral wreckage. People who become addicted to alcohol or other drugs might lie, cheat, or steal in order to get and use their drug of choice. Often what's left behind is a trail of shattered relationships.
In this situation, apologies won't do. Alcoholics Anonymous calls for making amends instead. These are mentioned specifically in several of AA's Twelve Steps, including:
Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Carrying out these two steps is a delicate process that calls for guidance from a sponsor or counselor. In an interview, John MacDougall, D.Min., a Dan Anderson Renewal Center presenter, answered questions about making amends.
How do amends differ from apologies?
An amend has to do with restoring justice as much as possible. The idea is to restore in a direct way that which we have broken or damaged – or to make restoration in a symbolic way if we can't do it directly.
Say, for example, that I borrowed 20 dollars from you and never paid you back. If I go up to you and say, "Gee, I'm sorry I borrowed your 20 dollars and spent it on drugs," that would be an apology. Making amends is giving your money back to you.
Why does Step Nine suggest that people avoid direct amends in certain cases?
For instance, you don't run home and say to your spouse, "Gee honey, I had a wonderful time in addiction treatment. I learned all about rigorous honesty, so I want to apologize to you for an affair I had five years ago." That's clearing your conscience at the expense of someone else who's going to feel terrible. In this case, your amend can be an indirect one. Stop having affairs and bring your heart, your energy, and your attention back home where it belongs.
Are direct amends simply impossible at times?
Yes. Say, for example, that someone gets drunk, drives, and kills somebody in a traffic accident. You can't go back and "unkill" the person who died. Instead, you can fill out an organ donor card. This is an indirect amend that can give life back to someone in the future. Remember that with crimes such as drunk driving, people might need to go to court and take a punishment. That's part of making amends as well.
You've mentioned direct and indirect amends. Are there other kinds?
Sometimes people talk about "living" amends. This simply means that we live differently. Amends are about a genuine change in our behavior instead of the patchwork of an apology. We take on a whole new way of life. We stop accumulating fresh insults to ourselves and others.
What are the benefits of making amends?
If we've continually harmed people and haven't made any effort toward amends, then we've got a lot of people, places, and things to avoid. Large areas of life become closed off to us. When you're willing to make amends, those areas open up again. You don't have to avoid people anymore. This is true not only for people in recovery but for all of us.
The book Alcoholics Anonymous mentions the promises of recovery. They come right after the explanation of Step Nine. "If we are painstaking about this phase of our development," it says, "we will be amazed before we are halfway through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace."
That's what happens when we bring justice back into our lives by making amends.