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The Essential Nature of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a tricky art. There seem to be some who resist it with every self-righteous breath. There also seem to be others who embrace it out of guilt for feeling entitled to some restitution. The act of forgiveness for oneself or another gets tangled in decisions about the problems we have with people. Whether one resists or embraces forgiveness, one may feel as though they are wrestling against failure in the process of deciding whether or not to forgive.

I’ve always thought that forgiveness takes time. It’s complicated, and it starts with understanding offense or even just how people perceive problems. We are typically offended when we expect someone to make choices and take actions that consider our own well being. It can be a simple as being honest with us and as grave as respecting our very lives. It can be as quick as feeling momentarily embarrassed and as traumatic as feeling profoundly violated. There are elements to forgiveness that match each aspect and scenario.

When a problem still exists between two people, forgiveness is beside the point. People need to address the problem to mutual satisfaction. It’s important to talk to one another, identify clearly what the problem is, attempt to work it out and hopefully arrive at some kind of resolution in the process. Forgiveness isn’t part of the process at this point.

If either or both people aren’t even interested in resolving the problem, forgiveness is unlikely. Forgiveness must be based on some care for the other person. If either person doesn’t even care to resolve the problem, then they likely don’t care to forgive whatever the other person did to cause the problem. If you are the one seeking forgiveness and the other person doesn’t care to work with you, you might consider trying to learn as much as you can from what you know, maybe consult some friends, and learn to forgive the other person for not working with you to learn how to be better. If they have tried working with you, then perhaps they feel as though they’ve done all they can and must walk away. However, consider that someone who abandons the relationship fairly quickly may actually have other motives and may have chosen to leave out of some dubious intentions.

It is when the problem is passed that forgiveness can happen. Sometimes, a confession must occur first. We may not know who caused a problem or even that there was a problem in the first place. Handling the confession means treating it as if the problem still exists. However, once that is done, forgiveness means letting go of the problem. We can only do that if we can accept what happened as part of human experience and growth. If we think the problem may resurface, then we may have to treat the situation as a problem that is current. However, once something is done, we need to decide if it is something we can accept as part of what a person can be. We have to accept that while we want people to be good from the start, they may have to make bad choices to learn from them. This includes ourselves of course. No one is perfect, so forgiving someone else also means accepting that we too create problems for others and must learn from that. We cannot put ourselves up as an example of someone who would never do a particular thing. Other people may have never caused a problem for someone else the way we do. Yet, we may still expect forgiveness, or at least desire it. That is why we must accept such problems as part of the human experience of growth regardless of the specific people involved.

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