Sustaining Hope in Forgiveness

May 22, 2022

I need to apologize to you … 

I felt like the prodigal daughter who stomped away from a difficult conversation only to be filled with remorse. In a moment of frustration, I lost my patience and let loose on a colleague. I was looking for someone to blame and wrongly assumed that some verbal venting would make me feel better about a situation that was largely beyond my control. I did not choose my words wisely. After pouting for a few days, I crafted a carefully worded apology, and hoped for the right moment to say the words out loud.

I need to apologize to you for what I said …  

The pandemic office restrictions made it easy to avoid one another. There was no fear of running into each other at the coffee station. Although, I secretly hoped for an awkward encounter in the elevator. At least then, I could say “I’m sorry” and get this angst out of my system. I recently discovered we both had tickets to a local social event, and thus, I found myself reciting this long-awaited act of contrition.

I need to apologize to you for what I said at that meeting a few weeks ago …

The words had barely escaped my lips. My colleague, like the benevolent father who rushed to greet his child with open arms, assured me that there was nothing to be sorry for. We both acknowledged the tensions that existed that day. The meeting had dragged on far too long, and everyone had taken a turn losing their cool. I contended that I still needed to make a genuine apology in order to set my own heart free. When our conversation was finished, it was clear that we could both move forward anew. As a wonderful priest confessor once said to me, “You can let it go now.”

If only forgiveness were that easy every time! How many of us cling to resentment hoping with all our might for the person who offended us to come forward? What about the people who have truly harmed others with acts of betrayal or violence? Do they even deserve forgiveness? How do we forgive people who commit grave injustices that contribute to societal unrest, acts of racism, sexual abuse, or war? Why should any of us find hope in forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a choice. Whether we are the one acknowledging our own offenses or the one receiving another’s apology, we make a decision to forgive. Contrary to popular opinion, genuine forgiveness is not dependent on the other person offering an apology or acknowledging their own need to change.

There are many things which forgiveness is NOT:

-Forgiveness does not ask us to forget the past.

-Forgiveness does not mean the sting of betrayal has completely faded.

-Forgiveness does not mean there isn’t still work to be done.  

-Forgiveness does not negate the consequences, it does not absolve the offender of the need for accountability, nor does it take the place of restitution or punishment when required.

-Forgiveness does not mean I have to like this person or become friends.

-Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation (which is mutual).

-Forgiveness is not dependent upon an apology. 

-Forgiveness is not always easy, but I do believe forgiveness is always possible. 

I need to apologize to you for what I said at that meeting a few weeks ago, and I need to say this out loud for my own peace of mind … 

Forgiveness is a journey toward freedom, and it is the work of the individual. In offering forgiveness, we resolve to let life unfold on life’s terms, without unduly regretting the past or trying to control the future. In my experience, forgiveness looks something like this:

-Forgiveness is acknowledging all the ways I’ve been hurt.

-Forgiveness is naming everything that has been lost, broken, and unresolved.

-Forgiveness is seeing the other person in all their humanity, with all their gifts, limitations, and imperfections.

-Forgiveness is letting go of my desire to get even. My desire for revenge does not harm the other person; it only causes me to relive my own pain.

-Forgiveness is asking for the grace to see this person as a loved sinner, just like me. 

-Forgiveness is opening our hearts to love others as God loves.

-Forgiveness is allowing ourselves to remember the past without reliving all the hurt.

-Forgiveness is a process and sometimes it takes a long time.

Forgiveness is an act of hope, because it assures us that all is not lost, even in the midst of painful memories and unresolved hurt. When we practice forgiveness, we begin to let loose the bonds of those who caused us harm, perhaps even those who have died or moved on from our lives. The gift of forgiveness holds open the possibility that life can be different going forward.

For all forgiveness IS and for all it IS NOT, it is often the only thing that can set us free. “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” (Lewis Smedes)

Go Deeper:

 

Photo by Nine Koepfer on unsplash.com 

 

Beth Knobbe is an author, speaker, and ministry professional based in Chicago, Illinois. She earned a Master of Divinity Degree from Catholic Theological Union and serves as a Community Engagement Manager with Catholic Relief Services, engaging Catholics in living their faith in solidarity with the poor around the world. Beth is an avid traveler and is passionate about her vocation to the single life. Beth is the author of Party of One: Living Single with Faith, Purpose, and Passion (2011) and Finding My Voice: A Young Woman’s Perspective (2009). Her personal blog can be found at www.bethknobbe.com.

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