Three Fundamentals of Forgiveness

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My internal “a-ha” brought a moment of clarity and calm. I set my pen down across the pages of my journal and looked out the window. Then, as if speaking from the center of my soul, I said, “This will be important to me for the rest of my life.”

So began my practice of forgiveness.

I then immersed myself in studying, reflecting on, discussing, and writing about forgiveness in preparation for a ten-week, community-wide initiative on forgiveness I was organizing called Season of Forgiveness. While the Season ended in 2009, my project partners encouraged me to continue the effort. I have spent the past six years studying, writing a weekly reflection, and occasionally teaching and speaking about forgiveness. 

Thom Andrews

At this point on my path, I wonder: what two or three insights stand out to me as key points to understanding forgiveness? Today, my answer is this: I choose to be hurt and I choose to release my pain.

I choose to be hurt

Certainly, no one asks to be hurt, so this point is very non-intuitive. However, while others’ actions may be very provocative, we have the capacity to choose how we’ll respond. No one makes us happy or sad.

Further, offenders act out of their own suffering and pain. While the hurtful action may seem very personal, it actually reflects the state of the perpetrator. In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz explores this in his second agreement: do not take things personally.

Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

It’s not an easy lesson. Yet, when you realize that the action is not about you and your response is your choice, it makes it easier to take the next step.

I choose to release my pain

As we acknowledge and become familiar with the pain and bitterness of an offense we’ve experienced, we move closer to the point where we can decide to release it and move on. It’s like driving into one of those large, urban roundabouts on a busy day. At first, it seems like mayhem. The first response is defensive (look out!). Eventually, you acknowledge the other vehicles, become familiar with their shapes, speed, and movements. You maneuver your way into the fray, select your way forward and move on.

But wait, we have another choice.

Pain and forgiveness reside in that space between an offense and our response to it. We can choose to develop that space into a sanctuary of grace that better absorbs the shock of hurtful actions and offers us breadth of reflection to consider another way forward.

I nurture that space between by practicing what I call the Fundamentals of Forgiveness. Like an athlete who practices fundamentals every day to prepare for the game, I attend to particular disciplines that prepare me to thoughtfully respond to the people and events I encounter each day.

The Fundamentals of Forgiveness are:

Gratitude – Recognizing the fragility and randomness in life, we take nothing for granted. We are mindful of each moment and thankful for what we have and what we receive. Gratitude acknowledges and expresses humility, affirming that there are no entitlements and we must “play the hand we’re dealt.”

Kindness – Recognizing the presence and worth of self and others, we show each other respectful consideration. This is generally expressed through common courtesies and manners. Kindness acknowledges and expresses our equality, affirming that each of us is worthy of the same measure of respect and that “we’re all in this together.”

Generosity – Recognizing the value of relationship, we give abundantly of our time, our patience, our empathy and understanding–whatever is needed–to attend to the person before us. Generosity acknowledges and expresses our mutuality, affirming our need for one another and that “you reap what you sow.” 

Practicing forgiveness transformed my life. Through Season of Forgiveness, I seek to encourage and equip people to live happier, healthier, more productive lives. May you find this path for yourself.

Thom Andrews is director of ONEplace  a management support center for nonprofit organizations. He also directs Season of Forgiveness, encouraging and equipping people to live happier, healthier, more productive lives through understanding and acceptance.