There is a Spanish story of a father and son who had parted ways years earlier over angry words.
The son had run away and the father searched for months to find him with no success. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The notice read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.”
On Saturday, 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness from their fathers.
We all have hurt others and been hurt by them, making it necessary for each of us to extend and receive forgiveness as we go through life. While we have little control over who will forgive us, we have complete control over whom we will forgive. This is crucial, because willingness to forgive others is not an option for anyone who wants to live a healthy life.
Without forgiveness, we forfeit friendships, stunt our personalities and miss the best that life has to offer.
To forgive someone is to grant pardon to a person who has offended or wronged you. It is a choice to drop all resentment against the culprit. It constitutes an offer to move forward in your relationship with him or her.
It used to be that to hear talk of forgiveness, you would have to go to church. But recently the concept of forgiveness has become a focus for psychologists, sociologists, criminologists, and even political scientists. With the increased interest in spirituality and wellness in these past few past decades, forgiveness researchers are turning their attention to this powerful, healing force.
Dr. David Augsburger, Professor of Pastoral Counseling at Fuller School of Theology in Pasadena, California has been a central force in the vanguard of this new thrust toward personal health and wholeness. Author of more than 20 books and hundreds of articles, most of his clinical research has focused on what forgiveness is, how it is practiced and what its effects are.
According to Dr. Augsburger, forgiveness is the most powerful antidote to soul-eating anger. “Central to the work of forgiveness is the task of working through our feelings of anger,” observes Augsburger. “Repressed anger hurts and keeps on hurting. If you always deal with it simply by holding it firmly in check, without any form of release or healing, it can produce rigidity and coldness in personality.
Even worse, hostilities pushed down into the depths of consciousness have a way of fermenting into other problems—depression, anxiety, and eventually mental breakdown.”
Rather than repress anger, many people vent it, sometimes on unsuspecting innocent third parties. This only spreads the damage. “But there is a third way,” says Augsburger. “It is not expressing or repressing but confessing your anger. Release from anger comes from owning up and opening up.”
Acknowledging your hurt and anger is the first step towards forgiveness. However, forgiveness is not complete until you confront the person who has offended you. “Go to the person with whom you were angry,” directs Augsburger. “Straighten it out. Life is too short to be ruined with bitter grudges and continuing indignation. Forgiveness is, at its heart, the resolution of anger between people.”
Forgiveness must be evenhanded. We do not have the luxury of deciding who deserves forgiveness and who does not if we are going to experience the freedom we gain from forgiving. To illustrate this point, Augsburger draws an analogy: “Life is like a high school class with students rich and poor, diligent and lazy, motivated and bored, and, of course, the different cliques.
After giving an exam and collecting them, the teacher announces, ‘All of you have failed. There is nothing that anyone of you can do to earn a passing grade. But I will leave the room and you may grade each other. Whomever you pass, I will pass, and whoever fails anyone else, I will fail.’
“No sooner has the teacher left than conflict erupts. The diligent will not pass the lazy; the rich pass each other and ignore the poor; some insist that each clique should pass its own. Groups emerge, each with its own rules and rituals for passing. Some groups remember the words of the teacher and say, ‘We have already flunked. We will have to pass everyone with no distinctions at all. Then we can be certain of our own forgiveness.’”
We may think that some people have more to be forgiven for than others do, or that the virtuous are more deserving of forgiveness than the unrepentant. This is a mistake; for us to experience the benefits of forgiveness in our lives we cannot afford to withhold it from some and offer it only to a select few others.
It not only has to be evenhanded; forgiveness must be complete. Forgiveness is actually canceling a debt. It is as if someone owes you one thousand dollars, and he or she cannot pay you back; you forgive the debt, never expecting to receive the money back. The amount owed to you is no longer owed or expected.
Forgiveness is like bankruptcy; once filed, the creditor may not retrieve the debt, and it is wiped out. This does not mean we “forgive and forget,” as the saying goes. Augsburger says, “Forgiveness is not the denial that anything happened.”
Rather, it is a conscious decision to pass on any claim for restitution.
The goal of forgiveness is the restoration of relationships. In other words, forgiveness is relational. Augsburger issues the challenge, “Forgiveness means being present, really there, for the other person. Forgiveness is the quality of being with another in spite of injury done or alienation experienced. Forgiveness is not superficial acceptance or simply tolerance for past offensive behavior. It is a commitment to move on to build a better relationship.”
It is a paradox: in an age when we put a premium on self-care and personal improvement, perhaps the greatest gift we can grant ourselves is the offer of forgiveness to others.
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Assistant Ed: Judith Andersson / Ed: Bryonie Wise
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