Monday, August 29, 2011

Forgiveness, the Final Frontier

Of all the steps discussed in this blog, forgiveness is one of the most challenging. The foundation of so many teachings, and the subject of endless studies, it remains one of the most difficult to accomplish, and, at least for me, to write about.

“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Those familiar with the Christian faith recognize this as part of the Lord’s Prayer. But do you know the verses immediately following the Lord’s Prayer? “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Just in case you need it spelled out because you weren’t paying attention when you were praying.)

That’s harsh! One person in our monthly discussion group asked in despair, “So if I can’t forgive someone, then I’m condemned?” Yikes!

Personally, I don’t think God is that stingy with forgiveness or exacts a quid pro quo. I believe that we live in a perpetual state of eternal grace. All of us, of any faith or no faith. I don’t think we can do anything to earn it or lose it. We become sidetracked by the merits of forgiveness. Does this person deserve it? Do I? We get caught up in judgment, knowing at some level we are reaping what we sow. And all the time, grace surrounds us and permeates us. It just is, like the air we breathe.

Yet we continue to seek it and withhold it. A Course in Miracles teaches that forgiveness corrects our misperception that we are separate, separate from others and separate from God. Forgiveness restores us to our true nature, oneness. Forgiveness releases us from our own bondage. We think in terms of forgiving others or being forgiven ourselves, but at some point we’ll see that it’s one and the same. Forgiveness heals our mistaken belief that we were ever unforgiven.

If we really understood how central forgiveness is to our well being, to our happiness, we would practice it, in Pema Chodron’s words, “like our hair was on fire.” My failure to forgive does not change who I am. Nor does it affect whoever it is that I am not forgiving. What it does is block my awareness of grace. I don’t like my awareness of grace blocked. So I try to forgive everyone, including myself.

But still, it’s so hard sometimes. Even the concept is hard to grasp, like a squirming, slippery fish. Forgiveness sometimes masks judgment. As in, I forgive you because I am a better person than you. Or lack of compassion, as in, I forgive you because I want you to feel guilty. And even when we genuinely forgive someone, sometimes the forgiveness doesn’t stay put. As in, I know I forgave you for this, but I was just remembering what you did and now I’m all upset again.

Only last night I was entertaining my daughter’s boyfriend with tales of some of her youthful misdeeds, and in the telling I became agitated and angry although these things happened years ago and I hadn’t even thought about them in ages. What started as a funny story that we were all laughing about triggered the hurt feelings like it was happening now. Wow.

So we start where we are. Sometimes that means I can enter the experience of universal grace, if only for a moment. Sometimes it means forgiving the same thing over and over. Sometimes it means that I can only express the willingness to forgive at some point in the future when I’m ready. It’s all okay. Whatever tiny step we can take to soften the hard crust around our hearts, to open a crack, to momentarily shift our perception, to consider the possibility of forgiveness, is to invite grace into our awareness. And grace, once invited, will surely come.


  1. I found this post on forgiveness to be very enlightening. You covered many aspects of forgiveness that we all need to heed and relate to. I realize I haven't let go of some of my anger towards a person in our family and I must continually keep trying, praying,and seeking the peace of forgiveness.
    Blessings to you for a great post.

  2. a Wow post Galen, I wish I had had your words to share with my July discussion group...
    it is just excellent

    We read the book RIDING GRACE by Lukara which is all about discovering that grace in the healing process from truly spells out how not forgiving can make one ill...but how the moments of grace can free the spirit to wholeness..

  3. Such a powerful post today, Galen. I have never connected forgiveness with grace....but you have certainly opened my eyes here.

    In closing....I want to include a post by Gandhi...."The weak never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Don't know what to make of this quote as it seems to elevate one above another...but I just thought I would share it today.



  4. My gold nugget from this post? "So we start where we are." Like always, your post is full of good advice.

  5. Galen: I love your philosophy, but I wonder if it has limitations. Are you capable of forgiving all transgressions? I am a big believer in forgiveness, and I never hold a grudge. However, I do have limits.

  6. LeAnn--I hope you find peace in your heart in regards to your family member. Family and close friends often present our greatest forgiveness challenges. Thanks for your comment.

    Patricia--Perhaps you can share this with your group in your next meeting. Thanks for the book reference. And for your comment.

    Jo--Thank you for the Gandhi quote. Perhaps it means that forgiving requires us to give up our victim story, to open our hearts, to look past our own limitations and the limitations of others. It takes courage. Thanks for commenting.

    Kara--I enjoy knowing what you think are the gold nuggets!! Thanks for commenting.

    JJ--You raise an interesting question. As a philosophy, I believe forgiveness has no limitations. As people, however, we often do. Am I able to forgive everyone completely all the time? Sadly, no. However, I aspire to forgive all transgressions without limitation, because I believe that any withholding of forgiveness limits me. If you have further thoughts on this, I'd like to hear more. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Thank you for your blog & transparency! This topic is so important/urgent, and is a journey we're on together. You are an inspiration & encouragement. Thank you.

    I recently led a small group (one night, as we're taking turns), and my topic was "forgiveness." Shared your blog link with the group too. We're thinking forgiveness is a process and wonder if we'll truly perfect it? maybe not until we are finally perfected?

    for me every attempt at forgiveness is my Gethsemane moment (Luke 22) all over again...the point of leaping off the mountain side trusting God will catch me, that He will make all things right, and it's surrender, not my will but Yours be done; absolute yielding & absolute trust. sigh

    and each attempt displays how far I have yet to go and to grow (end up praying Philippians 2:13 a lot, Father, make me willing)

  8. Hi Galen,
    I liked your response to JJ's comment. I have that same take on unconditional love. I endorse the theory but come up a little short in the execution.

  9. Nan--Thanks for sharing my link with your group. Will we ever perfect it? I believe, based on my own experience, that we can experience perfect moments. And based on those perfect moments, I am more motivated to experience more. So when I see that I am withholding forgiveness, when I am blocking my experience of grace, I am more quick to catch it and try to shift my perspective. Thanks for your comment.

    Riley--Well said! Thanks for commenting.

  10. Hello Galen,

    I love this post on forgiveness. I can certainly relate to the experience with difficulties in forgiving and how a supposedly joyous moment can trigger something painful. Your post has reminded me of a recent personal incident. It has been hard to practice forgiveness but I need to also forgive myself with finding it hard to forgive.

  11. Your insight is a rare quality. I am learning a lot and enjoying my visits to your blog.

  12. Hi Galen,
    This can be a tough one which we all struggle with. I have learnt though that you need to find 'forgiveness' to move on.....otherwise it will haunt you later on. I think that it's an element of personal freedom, just letting it go & making more room to accept more good in your Life. Thank you
    be good to yourself

  13. I enjoyed the read Galen, you've brought up some interesting points which I agree with. I strongly agree with forgiveness of self, first and foremost because if I don't forgive myself, how can I forgive others?

    Have a wonderful day/evening!

  14. Good Morning Galen, thanks for stopping by my blog yesterday! Appreciate you! I truly believe that God doesn't mince words...and when he states "forgive" he means just that but as you, I realize the impossiblity of that command "within myself to be a doer of his Word"..therefore I find myself at the foot of the cross daily over an offense done to me that harbors within the clefts of my David prayed, forgive me my secret faults...
    We are dual in our being that I mean we have two natures: One that became corrupt due to the sins of Adam male and female in the garden, and then the nature of Christ upon receiving Christ as the son of God within us....Eph 4:13 instructs us to grow in the nature or the fulness of the measure of you stated it is perpetual....and the desire of my heart to forgive and forget the offense and offender will be granted unto me as I continue to cling to the cross that this unforgiveness can die "daily" as Paul stated! Too many times we try to "work" the Word in our life when it < I believe > is not my responsibilty to "work" it but to submit to it that "IT" may do its work. "Such as a baby ...we feed it the nutrients it needs to grow but we cannot bring forth growth....that is the responsibilty of God. Forgiveness is a by product of LOVE and when we begin to LOVE as God loves, see others as God sees, when our eyes of understanding have been enlightened we will see that the offender of hurtful deeds are but an opportunity to make the Name of the LORD his grace, extend his mercy, be a light to a world of darkness, most of the time we will try to preserve self from the harm of others and the unforgivness is a wall of hate, to protect self from further suffering. When a "memory attached with ill feelings arise within me" I quickly say, I am not going to be one with those feelings, I have made a decison to walk as a believer and forgive, and plead the Blood of Jesus Christ over the thought and then purpose to quote scriptures or sing a song of the Blood...and I find another piece of unforgiveness as been resurrected into new life

  15. Evelyn--I think it's so hard to forgive others because it's so hard to forgive ourselves. Forgiving yourself for being unforgiving is a great place to start. Thanks for your comment.

    Bonnie--Thank you for the kind words and for your comment.

    David--I like the connection you made between forgiveness and freedom. So true. Thanks for your comment.

    darlin--Exactly! It's one and the same. Thanks for your comment.

    joybug--Thank you for your lovely testament of faith. It reminded me of my word for the year--yield. Forgiveness, as you say, isn't forced. It flows naturally from a heart full of love. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  16. Galen, I love the idea of inviting grace in. Forgiveness for me has always been about choice...I can only do it when I am ready to make the choice to forgive.

  17. Great post. And like Alida said, it is a choice. You can choose to go through life with anger, hated, bitterness, revenge in your heart...or you can choose to let it go. To be free and accepting. How could one truly accept love, or grace from others, if they could not offer it themselves? You have to be an active participant in Grace.
    Loved this post.
    (and thanks for your kind words on my blog too!)


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