Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On forgiveness

Forgiveness has long been important to me.  I think it was brought home to me when I was doing the Est Training.  The Training  is not primarily about forgiveness but does offer guidance on how to forgive and why it is important.   For a long time a framed picture of Pope John Paul II forgiving the man who tried to kill him has graced my office.  Another framed picture shows Yassir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin together at the time the peace accords were signed.  Former President Bill Clinton is between them.  

I see forgiveness as a selfish act.  The principal beneficiary is the forgiver, himself or herself, not the one forgiven.  The latter may not even know he or she has been forgiven, or care.   Hatred or resentment is like a bag of rocks that one carries about on one’s back.  For twenty years or more my mother carried such bag on her back.  For most of that period we were estranged.  The ‘rocks’ in the bag were accumulated resentments about the way I had lived my life.  

It was not that my life was a disaster.  I was, a tenured full professor at American University with an international reputation.  One day, during one of our rare visits together, my mother and I  got into one of those pointless arguments in which parents and their adult children sometimes engage.  Suddenly the back of rocks she had been carrying since my adolescent years was unloaded - on my head.  The Est Training had taught me that such unloadings are possible and that when they do the best response is “would you be willing to forgive me.”  When I asked my mother whether she would be willing to forgive me, her response was “I don’t know.”  But she did.  After that memorable day, our twenty year estrangement ended.  

Here is a passage from Bishop Desmond Tutu I have been meaning to share.

‘Forgiveness does not mean ‘forgive and forget.”  It stares the beast in the eye, names the hurt and refuses to return it, seeking not to punish but to heal.’

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Blogger Becky said...

That is a great story. I agree with you that it is the person who forgives who benefits most. A perfect example is one that I read in a book titled, "Murder by Family" by Kent Whitaker which is a story about his path to forgiveness after his wife and youngest son were murdered. The worst part of it is that his eldest son happened to be the murderer. This man forgave his son which is something that most people couldn't even fathom doing. However, if he had not forgiven, his life would have been just as miserable as his sons, (the person who committed the murder). Forgiveness sets a person free from their "bag of rocks," as you so precisely put it.

11:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you mean Pope John Paul II. Blessed Pope John XXIII was never subject to an assassination attempt.

2:55 PM  

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