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November 27, 2010

2

the work of forgiveness

by Andrea O'Connell

Thanksgiving weekend and the air around us seems to literally sing as our friends and loved ones gather around us – as we give thanks that our loved ones joyously grace our lives.

The ability to feel thankful rises from one’s ability to be truly grateful, this goes without saying. But, what about forgiveness? From where does that rise?

When one cannot forgive is it because gratitude and forgiveness are inexorably weaved together via our near-perpetual state of humanness? Is it due to our being human and thus imperfect, that we can not always forgive? It seems to me that choosing to not forgive is the ultimate negative emotion. Think of all the negativity involved in the act of refusing to forgive!

Often we hear people cry, “I just can’t forgive this”, or “I just won’t forgive that….” We nod and say, “I hear ya’, you need to just walk away from that.” And, yes, it is true, there comes a time when, to save our sanity, it is necessary to “walk away” when we feel put upon, abused or used. That is a positive first step. But I think it’s only the first in a long series of steps in the work of forgiveness.

But, do we always walk away with an intent to forgive eventually? What does it take to forgive? Is it necessary to forgive?

When one thinks of what it takes to forgive, really forgive, can that also include a murderer on death row?

Who among us could forgive a murderer? I don’t know if I could, but I have read about people who have been victims of murderers who go to the prison, face the guilty, and forgive them – right in the face of the murderer they say, “We forgive what you did because we know you are sorry for what you have done.” (Will forgiveness work only when the wrong-doer is repentant? I tend to think that is the case.)

Think of the redemption in the act of forgiving like God would forgive! Does the thought of such deep forgiveness stir something in you, as it does me? I want to believe that I could be such a forgiving person should a murderer kill my loved ones, but, to be honest, I don’t know if in reality I could be so forgiving.

I say so often, “Well, we are only human.” In the case of forgiving a murderer, I think it applies – we are not God, right? Well, this is indeed true, but can’t we be “god-like” in our actions and reactions?

I write about the Casey Anthony case because I have so much vested in the case – I’ve followed this case for so long and though I tire of it at times, I am fascinated by it, as many of us are.

And I often think, who is left to forgive Casey Anthony?

Her parents and family can’t forgive her and this is why they choose to believe someone other than Casey killed Caylee.

Can we forgive Casey Anthony? Does it even matter if we choose to forgive her or not?

I don’t have the answer to that. However, here’s a short passage from a little book I treasure. It will not answer the question for us, but may get us to think about what it really means to forgive and live with a grateful heart.

Maybe.

The following is taken from the text: “Attitudes of Gratitude”, by M.J. Ryan., pages 111-113.

Nothing blocks feelings of gratitude more than anger and resentment. That’s why the practice of gratitude requires the work of forgiveness. We can’t feel grateful to our parents for what we received from them when we are still angry about their abuse, self-involvement, insensitivity, alcoholism, or neglect. Nor can we receive the gifts of a relationship that has ended when we still feel hurt over betrayal, angry over deceit, sorrowful over abandonment.

Nor should we. Trying to force ourselves to feel grateful when such strong negative feelings exist only compounds the injury. We have been hurt. Let’s not deny our woundedness on top of everything else. Healing, in the form of acknowledging the grievance and grieving the loss or wound, needs to happen first.

However, there comes a time in the process of emotional resolution for forgiveness. For only forgiveness can move us out of the victim stance and free us to move on. Depending on the kind of wound you have suffered, this may be deep psychological and spiritual work. No one can talk you into it. No one can do it for you. Only you can come to the place where you want to forgive.

What helps the forgiveness process is to understand that resentment is a second-hand emotion, a cover for underlying feelings that have never been expressed….

….At some point you realize you are a better, stronger, more loving person than you might have been if you hadn’t been so hurt, and you recognize the gift in your particular suffering. In that moment, you move from victim to victor, from victor to venerated teacher.

Forgiveness leads to gratitude, and not just gratitude in general but, in a beautifully healing movement, to an outpouring of appreciation for the very things that caused such pain in the first place. Thus is our suffering redeemed.

There are many ways to victimize people. One way is to convince them that they are victims. ~ Karen Hwang

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sherry
    Nov 27 2010

    I believe those who are able to forgive the murderer of their loved ones truly understand Christ’s sacrifice for their own sins and the nature of their own sinful heart and thoughts, let alone the acts. I believe they understand forgiveness as not seeking revenge but instead praying for the murderer’s greatest need-his/her salvation through Christ’s sacrifice and sufferings in their stead. I believe they understand that their own actions in this life matters only as far as what it will mean in the eternal realm. “If Christ forgives me…” they understand the seriousness of their own sins, too, in God’s view of them.

    Now, what has Casey Anthony done to me that I should forgive her? Nothing. But, she has sinned against God and her family and friends and Caylee most of all. In the end, it will only matter if God has chosen to forgive Casey. Those who cannot forgive what she has done against them will wear themselves out with vengeful thoughts that will affect negative change in their own hearts, which will not affect Casey one wit. Casey is incapable of hurting because someone will not forgive her; unless God gives her a tender heart and desire to repent, she could not care less.

    Now, you Florida taxpayers may have to find it in your heart to forgive her …

    Reply
  2. Andrea
    Nov 27 2010

    Hi Sherry!

    I tell you what, you really, really hit the nail on the proverbial head for me when you wrote:

    “I believe those who are able to forgive the murderer of their loved ones truly understand Christ’s sacrifice for their own sins and the nature of their own sinful heart and thoughts, let alone the acts. I believe they understand forgiveness as not seeking revenge but instead praying for the murderer’s greatest need-his/her salvation through Christ’s sacrifice and sufferings in their stead. I believe they understand that their own actions in this life matters only as far as what it will mean in the eternal realm.”

    Yes, that’s exactly how I think, only you said it much better than I! 🙂

    And YES! That is exactly correct: what has Casey Anthony done to me that I need to forgive her? That is right. I tell you what though, I was thinking of some of the really die-hard fanatics out there who spew hate with regards to the case…. But, your point is absolutely correct in my humble opinion, too. Especially true are these words of yours:

    “Those who cannot forgive what she has done against them will wear themselves out with vengeful thoughts that will affect negative change in their own hearts, which will not affect Casey one wit. Casey is incapable of hurting because someone will not forgive her; unless God gives her a tender heart and desire to repent, she could not care less.”

    The negative thoughts about Casey Anthony only affect the holder of those thoughts in a negative fashion… that is absolutely TRUE!

    Thank you for saying so simply such profound truths, you dear heart.

    Reply

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