Were you taught to forgive & forget? I think forgiveness is a virtue that most children are encouraged to embrace. If like me you went to a Catholic (or any domination) school you likely had whole lessons on it. Parables, examples of Jesus forgiving all sorts of bad behaviour and even the big man himself wiping the slate clean a plenty. Forgiveness was a given.
That all feels fairly reasonable as a kid. I bought into forgiveness being the decent thing. Then of course you get older. The stakes get a little higher. The religious teaching no longer hold sway and the concept of forgiving becomes very different. It is much harder to offer absolution to people who do terrible things & cause real harm. It gets complicated. Do we forgive people who never genuinely apologise? What about those who repeat the bad? And what about the whole forgetting part? Is it wise to wipe our memories of knowledge that may well protect us in the future?
Then there are the people who will tell you that forgiveness is solely about you. You forgive the trespasses, no matter how bad because it’s how you heal. Not forgiving is carrying the toxicity with you. Many times I hear supposedly wise folk advise that forgiving someone doesn’t mean what they did was ok. We do it for our own health. We can forgive and walk away. The key to our own peace is in the forgiveness.
None of that has ever made sense to me. If you remove the ‘what would Jesus do’ element (which I very much do), surely we offer pardons voluntarily? If we don’t feel remotely forgiving, why should we force it? To me, forgiveness is a two person activity. First of all, someone has to be sorry to even qualify. Secondly, they have to actually take steps to do better. Without these factors forgiveness is meaningless.
I don’t buy the forgiveness is for me spin either. It’s entirely possible to remove someone from your life without forgiving them. A person can move on without forgiving. People who hurt us don’t necessarily have to play a part in our healing journey. They don’t have to factor in our future lives at all. I do not believe that forcing myself to absolve a person I do not consider deserving of that mercy will bring anyone peace. If it feels right, it’s probably right. On the other hand, there are things in life that are unforgivable. That’s ok.
You don’t need my (or anyone else’s) permission, but if no one else has ever said it, please know you do not have to forgive. You can carry on, fix anything that person damaged, learn whatever lessons the issue presents and live a lovely life. I’ve done it. I have judged the actions of someone I once loved unforgivable. I won’t ever forgive that person. They did a heinous thing. They never offered me a satisfactory apology. Never made any effort to correct their behaviour. My refusal to discharge their wrongs hasn’t hampered me in any way. I removed them from my life. I had therapy. I had time. I took note of the signs I missed, the acts I accepted and I moved on. I don’t feel anything at all about that person now. I rarely think of them. When they occasionally come up in conjunction with other things I am unbothered. I’m good.
Forgiveness is optional. It can’t be demanded or guilted from you. Choosing not to forgive is valid. It won’t make you bitter or stunt your healing. You are allowed to build a healthy and happy life on your terms. Never mind JC. Ask yourself what you want and do that.
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