When forgiveness seems like too much to give

There are a lot of great words out there about forgiveness.

Failing to forgive is too heavy a load to carry.

Failing to forgive is more about you than it is about the person you won’t forgive.

These are good words and good sentiments, and I can’t really argue with them. But sometimes, it seems like forgiveness will cost you too much.

How do we forgive the person who shot Gabby Giffords and killed and wounded so many others?

How do we forgive the soldiers who opted to pee on the bodies of dead Iraqis?

How do I forgive that person I loved who let themselves die in secret rather than seek any sort of medical attention or help?

It seems like forgiveness in these cases is too simple. You’re sorry you did those things? You repent? Well, that’s good. I guess. But it’s too late.

Is that fair?

Death, often times, seems like the great eraser. When Ted Kennedy died, many said that he had lived life well. And it was true -he had done a lot of amazing things. But he also left a woman alone in a car who could have potentially been saved. A car at the bottom of a lake, where she died frozen in desperation. Did his death and later good deeds erase that? That seemed like too much to forgive and forget for me.

Now, many are mourning the loss of Joe Paterno while others are raising their fists and saying his life and legacy should not be celebrated. It’s unclear to me just how much Joe knew. If someone told you that your partner, your right-hand man, was doing the unthinkable, would you be able to act in the way you see most fit? One hopes to never be in such a situation. And yet, JoPa did turn a blind eye. He admitted as much. And many children, many families, probably suffered needlessly as a result. Death opted to take Mr. Paterno before he had a chance for any make-goods. He died, as Hamlet says, in the midst of his sin.

What does forgiveness cost us in this case? How much of our own hearts and feelings would we have to sacrifice to let bygones be bygones now that the man has died?

I strive to live life the way Gandalf describes it. Who am I to dole out death and judgment? I strive to live my life based on what philosopher Jamie Sams says – when you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you.

And yet, if I say I forgive everything, I’m not being honest. Some things are too hard to forgive. Some things should not be forgotten, even with the broad sweep of mortality’s end.

Sometimes forgiveness is a gift we cannot give. Sometimes it is a load we cannot put down. I think that is the epitome of the human condition. Don’t you?

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dalboz17/2892904007/ via Creative Commons

35 comments
OliviaLundberg
OliviaLundberg

Yes Margie, I agree.  This is the epitome of the human condition.  We live, it seems, in two worlds at once.  On one hand is an understanding of forgiveness and at times an embracing of the truth of forgiveness in our lives.  And on the other hand, an understanding of being human and an embracing of our true feelings about the situation. 

 

Both hands are valuable as they are the truths of ourselves at those times.  I feel it is far better to acknowledge what your are feeling, without judgement than to avoid those uncomfortable feelings that are rising to the surface to be felt and released.  I think it is the human condition to be blinded by "perfection".  We sometimes hurt ourselves the most by not being authentic and punishing ourselves if we don't fit the model of forgiveness. 

 

Forgiveness is not one-size-fits-all, sometimes it's a life long process or one that never manifests.  In whatever we choose, let's remember that we are still immensely valuable and worthy of love. 

 

-Olivia

www.reikiwitholivia.wordpress.com

TylerKendall
TylerKendall

I don't agree. I think that forgiveness is absolutely difficult, but it is always possible and always necessary. I read a book by Master Charles Cannon that talked about how forgiveness is an essential part of having a soul at peace, and I agree with that. The book is called "Forgiving the Unforgivable" and is really inspiring - Master Charles lost a dear friend in 2008 during terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and he speaks only of forgiving the terrorists. I think it's very inspiring and a model by which I can hope to live up to!

Marly
Marly

Are you telling us that you have never, even once, done something that has hurt another person, which is the essential definition of sin? Let me guess your answer: "Oh, but I never killed anyone, I never raped anyone, I never stabbed anybody in order to get their money." Something like that? In other words, you've never done any "bad" sin. Merely gossiping behind somebody's back, humiliating your kids, making your husband feel he can't do anything right, because he doesn't do it your way or dishonoring your parents, are all "small" sins, and therefore should automatically qualify for forgiveness, because none of them took anybody's life, correct?

Guess what, Margie? Plunging your knife of gossip and hatred, dishonor, and even the lack of forgiveness, is just as hurtful as plunging a physical knife into their back; it just doesn't kill them.

What would you tell your kids if they told you they cannot forgive you for what you did when they were little? All the times you yelled at them for stupid, like not picking up their toys? That what you did to them is a load that they cannot put down? You are just as guilty of sin in your self-righteousness, as Ted Kennedy was of letting that woman drown. There is not one of us that isn't guilty of it, and therefore, none of us "deserve" forgiveness. Fortunately, the One who created us and loves us more than anyone else in this world, including our parents, provided a way for us to be forgiven, even of the big bad stuff. If you want to find it out, go read what He said in the book He had written.

One more thought. Lack of forgiveness is not going to hurt the people who hurt you; they either don't know or they don't care that you are hurt. You are only hurting yourself, and those around you. Trust me, I know from whence I speak. I took more than ten years to figure it out; ten year that could and should have been spent in far better ways.

tcm007
tcm007

Really great post and very honest. I guess that is why forgiveness is such a precious gift it is not easily given.

girlygrizzly
girlygrizzly

Margie,

I think you said all that needed to be said right here, "Sometimes forgiveness is a gift we cannot give. Sometimes it is a load we cannot put down."

Forgiving is not forgetting, but I am with you, some things are too much to set down and walk away from. It is the weight we choose to carry that is our love and really... our pain from the load we choose to carry, may fuel the solution to keep it from happening again, to someone else.

Forgiveness is best left to God, I think. Between an individual and his (or her) own higher power. I (try,) really work on NOT judging others. To judge someone, their choices, their words, actions, seems out of my realm of expertise...I am working daily on improving myself, trying to shed all the ignorant, impatient or bad parts of myself, why should I believe I know enough to judge another. I do not know their thoughts or feelings...

But.

We do, each of us, have our own moral lines. I believe that mine are pretty defined. There is grey that runs beside many of these lines and some are carved into stone... and yet we all know that even stone may be washed away. When these lines feel as if they are blurring, we were left with only 10 pretty straight forward, easy to understand rules to follow.

Thanks, pal.

DalaiLina
DalaiLina

People who have a hard time forgiving others also have a hard time forgiving ourselves. We are always hardest on ourselves. Do you think this is true for you?

TheDaveReynolds
TheDaveReynolds

Hey Margie,

I wrote a blog on Saturday night. Joe Paterno was about to die. I was very angry that he would leave offering a prayer to "the kids" but accept no personal responsibility for this nightmare. After much soul searching the last few days and after reading your latest, I have decided to take your advice. My little bit of forgiveness begins with me NOT posting my blog.

brandcottage
brandcottage

Dr Petit told Oprah that it is impossible to forgive the men who killed his family.

'I don't think you can forgive ultimate evil', he said.'You can forgive somebody who stole your car. You can forgive somebody who slapped you in the face. You can forgive somebody who insulted you. You can forgive somebody who caused an accident. I think forgiving the essence of evil is not appropriate.'

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1337167/Connecticut-home-invasion-survivor-Dr-William-Petit-talks-Oprah-Winfrey.html#ixzz1kOzfpklt

How would you feel if you went to sleep one night and two evil men broke in your house, raped and murdered your wife and kids?

Margie, maybe there are some crimes just too horrible to forgive. But maybe through working on forgiveness (if the other party works on earning it) is the only real path to healing oneself.

Then forgiveness would be worth the price. A chance at a peaceful life.

TheJackB
TheJackB

<i>How do we forgive the soldiers who opted to pee on the bodies of dead Iraqis?</i>

I am not excusing the soldiers, but on behalf of a few friends who are vets I want to share a thought. War is a strange thing. It has to be challenging to be "nice" to the person who moments before was trying to kill you. I can't imagine shifting gears that way.

That is sort of a general thing.

I look at Joe Paterno and I shake my head. I can't ignore what happened or believe that he was completely unaware. If he didn't do everything in his power to stop Sandusky than I cannot forgive his inaction. It doesn't mean that he didn't do a lot of good but it tarnishes everything.

There are some things that go beyond the pale .

Martina McGowan
Martina McGowan

Forgiveness is often hard or difficult. Most of us have suffered at the hands of another or felt we have been cheated by life. So we must find some ground on which we can stand firmly, all the time. Most things I can forgive and forget. There are a few that I can forgive, but never forget. And I think those are two different things.

I am little like Gandolf, in that judgement and death are not mine to weild. But for those things we cannot forget, we have to establish new boundaries. Example- I can forgive a relative who lolested me as a child, but I see no value in placing myself in a vulnerable position and be alone with them again. That's not forgiveness, it is stupidity.

As for Joe P. Time will tell, and the truth may emerge or get swept under the rug of big corporate bucks. There is aqupte that I can't lay my hands on right this moment, but something like, Knowing and not doing, is not really knowing; and knowing is not doing, only doing is doing.

We must find a way to get through the world in a way it makes sense to us. We cannot right every wrong by letting people off the hook. We also cannot hold ourselves prisoner to what they did or shackled to the thin hope that they may change. Because that, Gandolf, is not our job either.

We try our best one day and one prayer at a time, for ourselves and for others. 'Tis all we can do.

Martina@martinamcgowan

douglaserice
douglaserice

Margie,

I recently preached a sermon at my church on forgiveness, and I agree with you wholeheartedly about how we make forgiveness too easy. We say we've forgiven people, because we think it's what we're supposed to do. But it isn't always that simple. Forgiveness comes easily only to those who were never really hurt in the first place.

KathiJoy
KathiJoy

I'm actively trying to forgive a few people for an act of betrayal. Finding my way to it a little bit every day. It's more of a process than an act. Sometimes I just 'release' the anger and hurt to the heavens, other times I look at the bigger lesson at play for me. Being human - not an easy job at times.

marcymassura
marcymassura

Oh no. Now I have to forgive him. Not sure I can. But I will try.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@TylerKendall I disagree wholeheartedly. I won't forgive Hitler and the Nazis who murdered my relatives and I won't forgive terrorists who murdered friends.

And FWIW, my cousins left Mumbai four days before the terrorist attacks. They had been staying at the Chabad house and would have certainly been included.

I don't lose any sleep over this or feel any need to offer forgiveness for acts that are unforgivable. If others wish to forgive that is their choice, but I think it is wrong for people to allege that those who don't forgive are less content.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@Marly Of course I have done things to hurt people. Seldom intentionally so far as my recollection goes, though of course the other person never sees it that way.

Perhaps it is self-righteous to say that we can't forgive people for certain things. Where is the line? That is the question I was trying to raise. Can we forgive Joe Paterno? Could we ever forgive Jerry Sandusky? I don't know. And as you say, what does it matter in the end? Joe is dead. Jerry doesn't know me.

And yet...

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@girlygrizzly Thank YOU. It's a tricky line to walk, isn't it? In the end, we all have to be able to live with what we do as people, and that's enough trouble. Worrying about what other people do can cost us a lot and doesn't really get us much. On the other hand, there is such a thing as justifiable moral outrage. So, what to do?

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@DalaiLina I think it's easy to forgive ourselves. We know what we were dealing with. We have walked in our own shoes and know all of the roots we had to step over. In fact, I would say that maybe we are too forgiving of ourselves and not forgiving enough of others. I could be wrong tho :)

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@TheDaveReynolds That's great, Dave. But I would not censor your feelings either. It's a discussion that I think needs to take place.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@brandcottage You could be right there, Patricia. The process of learning to forgive can be as exhausting as the actual act. Is it worth it? You may not see the results in your own life directly. But will it lighten your load? Well, that could be worth it, as you say.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@TheJackB War is definitely something I can't pretend to understand. But that's just the point. You never really know the full story until you walk in someone's shoes, right? Do we know exactly what Paterno saw and heard? Not REALLY. Do we know what we would do if someone we cared for deeply did the unthinkable? Hopefully not.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@Martina McGowan I love your comments. I'm almost to the point where I blog just so I can claim your words of wisdom here :)

I think it will be interesting to see how the Penn State community handles things in the wake of Paterno's death. Should he be untarnished now that he is no longer here to defend himself? I don't know. That seems unfair to all of the kids whose lives will never recover fully due to what they experienced. On the other hand, what good does it do to remain angry at one who cannot hear?

it's a tough question.

brandcottage
brandcottage

@douglaserice when the act requiring forgiveness is large and the pain caused the victim deep, it is extremely hard to forgive. I would argue in those cases forgiveness is not handed out easily. It takes work, time, and an amazing will. And more times than not , reguires the person asking for forgiveness to earn it over time.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@douglaserice I like that Doug. You should start taping your sermons & posting them to YouTube. Just sayin...

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

@marcymassura Nah. It's a tough nut to crack. Thought-provoking situation, as so many are these days, it seems.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@margieclayman I understand what you are saying but my willingness to give the benefit of the doubt here is limited. I am the first to say that life isn't black and white but there are some things that can't be talked away.

In cases where an 18 year-old is arrested because they have sex with their 16 year-old girlfriend there are shades of gray, but this...

My kids are 11 and 7.5 so maybe it hits home even harder for me but I can't imagine a situation where I would let a friend of mine get away with sexual conduct with a child.

suegrimm
suegrimm

@margieclayman@Martina McGowan I read a great book this past year and for the life of me can't remember the name. But it really helped me understand that forgiveness is not forgetting in any way. Nor is it saying the act was o.k. It's not o.k. It's just not and I want to lash out at every single person who didn't stop that monster. But I want to address something else you said. Forgiving ourselves is in my opinion the ultimate challenge. I think we all would be surprised to learn that some of the victims likely feel responsible for the tarnish on Paterno's reputation. It's not. And there are probably those who wished they had come forward themselves to stop it from happening to others. To them, I want to say, they need to find a way to forgive themselves if that's how they feel. I don't know if this makes sense or not and it's so very hard to explain my feeling on this, but I do believe forgiveness is very powerful and it in no way is the same thing as forgetting. They are two very different things. And on a final note, I tend to think it's much easier to forgive someone who admits a wrong and takes responsibility. But those boys face many who aren't taking responsibility or owning their part, for them we do need to stand up for them and be loud and clear. It was wrong and it's not their fault. There are too many layers and too much confusion for me to make a whole lot of sense of this in my own mind and some days it just rips at my heart. But I wanted to respond to your post and say that I think forgiving yourself, is indeed the ultimate challenge.