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You will know that forgiveness has begun
when you recall those who hurt you and
feel the power to wish them well.

[Lewis B. Smedes]

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I decided to meditate upon growth-producing concepts, and to let those enrich my life instead of deciding what I think I ought to do and driving myself nuts trying to do it. For January, I selected forgiveness. Here is what I’ve learned during my journeys to forgiveness:

Forgiving starts with a choice and continues through an often difficult process to a deep, permanent attitude change that is a major building block for mental, physical and spiritual health.

Remembering is essential to forgiving. Who knows where the phrase, “forgive and forget” comes from, but it is unrealistic and counter-productive. The goal for the process of forgiving is remembering without malice. Therefore, remembering is an important gauge by which I judge the effectiveness of my forgiving.

Choosing to forgive is an act of grace. It requires no change in the people and circumstances that created the need to forgive. It rises above the need for justice, remorse in another, changed circumstance, or my sense of fairness. It is a personal decision and a personal process that has nothing to do with the size of the offense or what I think another deserves.

When I choose to forgive, I take the first step into a future that is unfettered by the past—not only unfettered, but also educated by the past.

Once I make the choice to forgive, I start the process of forgiving. I need to avoid a number of stumbling blocks in that process.

As a human being, my perceptions are finite—walled in by my experience of the world around me. The process is multifaceted even if I cannot see all of the facets. Although some offences are obviously real by most people’s standards, I might have magnified and/or misperceived the offense. I could even have based my perceptions on a faulty sense of right and wrong.

I need to apply the choice to forgive to myself as well as others. This is often the most difficult process of all. During this process, I need to accept forgiveness for myself.

I need to set aside preconceived ideas taught to me by my experiences and culture. Just like the phrase, “forgive and forget,” I’ve learned other misconstrued precepts. “God helps those who help themselves” could be changed to “God helps those who allow God to help them.” So it is with forgiving. Some people believe that forgiving requires us to unite with the offender if possible. Forgiving only really requires that I view the offender without malice. The wisdom learned in the process of forgiving might teach me to take myself out of harm’s way and avoid the offender. Nor does it require me to agree with or in any way come to accept the offense.

My forgiveness may change nothing in my external world. A true act of grace cannot be earned or deserved. A true act of grace expects no reward. But, there is a reward to forgiving. Not only does it free me from the past and allows me to face the future unfettered by the negative influences of malice, it puts me in the position to interact with the world around me in a positive manner. Often the world around me is a mirror that reflects my attitude. What I see is a reflection of what I project.

Remembering without malice is not the same as remembering without emotion. The memory of certain events and offenses may always wring tears from the depths of my heart. Dealing effectively with grief, fear, anger, sadness and other emotions may be a part of the process of forgiving, or even a result of the process, but does not indicate the success or failure of the process. The absence of malice—absence of resentment, absence of bitterness, and absence of the desire for revenge—is objective of forgiving.

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