The Art of Forgiveness

I recently submitted my monthly parenting articles to the Santa Fe New Mexican, one of them on teaching children the art of forgiveness.  Although we are all told how divine forgiveness is, very few of us are ever taught how to forgive.  Forgiveness frees us to live in the moment, dropping the burden of old resentments, feelings of revenge and anger, and tethers to the past.

After sending the articles off, I thought, “Who might I need to forgive?”  Quickly a name and face jumped into my mind – a boyfriend from college who had left me at a very fragile time and in what felt like a heartless way.  The feelings that came up were strong.  I felt angry at him even after many decades (and I mean MANY!) had passed.  I didn’t like him, and I didn’t want to forgive him at all!  That breakup had left me in the wilderness.      

I had written in the parenting article about Corrie Ten Boom who forgave a former prison guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where she had been imprisoned and where her dear sister had died.  If she could forgive the man who in some ways was responsible for her own sister’s death, how could I not forgive this guy?  I was so wrapped up in hating this former boyfriend – I’ll call him Fred to protect the not-so-innocent – that I even thought, “Well, the guard asked for her forgiveness.  Fred had not asked for mine.  He probably doesn’t even remember who I am.  He’s a jerk.”   

Rather than sit in that space of rationalization, I decided to forgive him even though I felt very unforgiving.  I actually felt on the verge of revenge!

My first step was to fully feel the anger that began in my stomach.  My second step was to explore what I was angry with him for.  I left my friends, devoting myself to him.  I never set great boundaries on what I wanted.  I became absorbed in his life and lost my own.  I also realized that all along, I never trusted him.   Can you see the blame in each of those sentences that begins with the word “I”?  I blamed him for what I had chosen to do. 

The relationship had felt like an addiction, so I explored what “my fix” had been.  What did I get out of it?  I decided that I had drafted on his high energy rather than trusting and operating from my own.  He was dynamic, and I turned down my own dynamism. 

The tool (not him, an actual tool) that assisted me here is an exercise that we do in the course Freedom to Be: An Embracing Life Experience called The Freedom Paragraph.  During the exercise, we let someone off of the hook so that we become both more empathetic and more detached.  Doing the Freedom Paragraph was incredibly liberating!  If you would like more on this amazing course, check it out here.

My next step is to forgive myself – with great tenderness – for all of those places where I had blamed him.  Yes, he left me, and I had left my friends.  I surely did not want to see where I was like him, and I had been.  I now know how much I value sticking with people that I love.  At the time, I made something else more important.  I won’t do that again, and I will reconnect with as many of those people from that time in my life as I can.  I will also trust my instincts more, set better boundaries, honor and feel the feeling of anger, fan the flames of my own vitality, and so love those who stand by me.

For more on forgiving, two great books are out there along with a wonderful course: