Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The F Word

No, not that F word. The other F word. Forgiveness. Forgiveness is our topic this month. Step 8 is “Forgive everyone.” This includes, and perhaps even starts with, ourselves.

Forgiveness is a central idea in the Bible. And in A Course in Miracles. And in psychology. And in 12 step programs. It is central to Amish culture. And although I’m no expert, I’m guessing it is central in other faith traditions and self development programs as well. People read thousands of books about it, spend years in therapy to be able to give it or receive it. People beg for it, offer it, pray for it, resist it, marvel at it, long for it, fear it.

Most everyone agrees that forgiveness is a good thing. I say most everyone because I read an article by someone who was not very keen on forgiveness. He thought that some people should not be forgiven. For example, he would withhold forgiveness from someone who expresses no remorse. Or someone who is a repeat offender. Or who does something so horrible that forgiveness is out of the question.

However, in reading his rationale, I believe that he confuses forgiveness with reconciliation, or self-protection, or trivialization – all focused on the wrongdoer. But forgiveness isn’t about the forgiven; it’s about the forgiver. Withholding forgiveness separates us from others, which inevitably results in fear, which in turn is often masked as judgment. It is, as the saying goes, like drinking rat poison hoping the rat will die.

Well, goshdarnit, if withholding forgiveness is so toxic, and forgiving is so beneficial, why is it so hard to do? And do we really have to forgive everyone? Even [fill in the blank]?!

As a way of getting started with our topic this month, try to pay attention to what happens in your body when you think about forgiving the person whose name you inserted in the blank. Perhaps your heart is beating a little faster, or your head is starting to hurt, or your throat is closing up, or your brain is spinning. That’s okay. Take a few belly breaths and let it go for now. Just be aware.

I hope you will join me this month as we explore the connection between developing a habit of forgiveness and living in joy. As always, I welcome your experience and questions and insights.


  1. “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” -- Lewis B. Smedes

    I really believe that not forgiving someone is more harmful to ME than it is to the person I refuse to forgive. Chances are, that person doesn't even care if I forgive him, so he's not losing any sleep over it. So if my anger and unforgiveness is eating away at me, who's it REALLY hurting?

    Great post, thank you!

  2. I personally feel a sense of relief in forgiveness. To keep the ill-feelings bottled up inside doesn't help to move on. Wonderful post!

  3. I promise I didn't know you'd feature the "F" word on the same day I highlighted the "P" word.

    The Smedes quote shared by Chrissy Bee is perfect. Forgiveness allows the forgiver to move on, regardless of what the forgiven does or doesn't do.

    I'll add one more: "To err is human to forgive divine."

  4. Chrissy--Great quote which I have already added to my file! Thanks for that! You are right. Sometimes the other person doesn't even care. We have to be able and willing to forgive quite apart from the other person. Thanks for your comment.

    Cynthia--It is liberating to forgive, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

    Bob--Ha! I promise I didn't know about your post, either! Great minds and all that! Thanks for adding another great quote to Chrissy's.

  5. Ahhhh the "F" word, that was a tough one. I didn't understand that to forgive does not mean to condone the others actions, it means releasing the negative energies and allowing me to move forward with freedoms in my life. You're 100% right, the hardest person to forgive was myself, some days I still want to beat myself up but I get over that real quick and thankfully the days are fewer and further between than they once were.

    Fantastic reminder, thanks Galen!

  6. darlin--When we learn to truly forgive ourselves, it's much easier to forgive others. Thanks for your comment.

  7. I find it much harder to forgive myself than to forgive others. I must be much harder on myself than on others... I guess this month I will have to focus on learning to forgive myself.
    Thanks for the post!

  8. I see that many are thinking about how hard it is to forgive oneself - I am in that camp too, but then I wonder if I am able to truly forgive the other if I have not forgiven myself first?
    I get some kind of physical pain when I think of one person I am having trouble forgiving on a permanent basis...I know we were both searching for love from the wrong same source. Doesn't make any difference
    Big work, big work, crucial in my book

  9. Beliza--I believe that all our resistance to forgiving others is rooted in reluctance to forgive ourselves. So your efforts this month to forgive yourself will open the door to forgiving others. Thanks for commenting.

    Patricia--See my response to Beliza. I think you are right on target to recognize the connection between forgiving ourselves and forgiving others. Many of us have that one person who triggers such emotional pain and anger that forgiveness seems impossible. I hope our discussion this month will give you some suggestions to try. Thank you for your comment.

  10. Galen,
    Forgiveness is so important for freeing ourselves from the past. When we hold onto anger we can't get our foot off the lower rung of the ladder we're climbing. We're stuck. I love that you recommend taking a deep breath and seeing how you feel. I think we get so used to feeling what we do we don't notice how constricting it is to be unforgiving.

  11. Hi Galen,
    Another wonderful topic to study and practice. I find it interesting that it's so intertwined with the last topic(compassion)discussed. The more compassionate I feel the easier it is to forgive.

  12. Thank you for writing about this always-important topic, Galen. ALL major religions emphasize the necessity of practicing it, despite small differences in what is or isn't considered "forgivable".

    Forgiveness is a cornerstone of empathy, and a key quality of psychological maturity, but it has physical benefits too. Reliable studies have begun to indicate that those who practice proactive forgiving receive a variety of health benefits, especially upon blood pressure levels. Forgiveness really IS good for your heart! Here's a link to an NPR discussion including Frederick Luskin, director of Stanford's Forgiveness Projects:

  13. I've never been able to bear a grudge even when I really wanted to. Darn it. Some people don't deserve our forgiveness. But forgiving them seperates us from the wrongdoing... leaving the perpetrator to face the consequences in their own heart.

    It's liberating in a lot of ways to let it go. Eventually things come around full circle and whoever it was will learn their lesson well. It is afterall their lesson to learn... and we don't have to suffer it.

    [but that's just what I think - grin]

    Thanks for making me think about it Galen :-)

  14. Angela--I know you have written some excellent posts on the topic of forgiveness so I'm glad you are part of this discussion. Thanks for commenting.

    Riley--Astute observation about the connection between compassion and forgiveness. Actually the last two topics, compassion and judging, are inextricably intertwined with forgiveness. So some of the things we talk about this month will hark back to those two topics. Thanks for your comment.

    Mikey--Thank you so much for this additional insight and for the link to the NPR discussion, which I will check out this afternoon. Very important info about the health connection--thank you! And thanks for commenting.

    Jean--Wish you could take some of that forgiveness mojo and bottle it up and sell it! Or better yet, give it away!! Thanks for your comment.

  15. Beautiful post, Galen. Some wonderful comments have been added. Forgiveness is critical for life. Without it, life is like a prison!

    Sure would not like to live that life...

  16. Great title! It really grabbed me and made me laugh.

    I agree with your observation that forgiveness can be so hard. And, yes, thinking of the person so often hits in the body. For me in my gut. And my whole body contracts. I've had to be very patient and dedicated to aspiring to forgive despite the body reactions for forgiveness to finally kick in!

    On my recent personal retreat, I discovered I have a little more work to do in the forgiveness realms. Perfect topic and month for me.

    Totally LOVE this background on your blog.

  17. restoring--I agree, the comments have added a lot to this discussion. Thanks for yours!

    Sandra--Forgiveness issues seems to recycle themselves, don't they? I think I'm done, and then I find out there is more work yet. Glad you liked the title. And the background. I seem to be on a seasonal theme with backgrounds. Spring stayed there for so long because here in the Northwest, summer was late in arriving! Thanks for commenting.


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