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WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?

Before you read more, first, think about your own definition of forgiveness. Write it down if that helps.

Not too long ago I heard a story about forgiveness.  There was a woman who was reported to have visions of God.  The local church officials were concerned since it was upsetting many of their parishioners.  The woman was summoned by the head of the local church and asked if she did, indeed, have visions of God, to which she answered, “Yes.”

The official told the woman that it was his job to verify her story, so he told her to do the following: “The next time you see God, ask God what my most grievous sin has been (his history was laden with many such sins), then come back here, and we will talk.”

Shortly after their meeting the woman again had a vision of God, and she did just as the official asked her to do.  Immediately, she called him to arrange another meeting, just as he requested.

At that meeting he asked her whether she had another vision, and she nodded yes.  Then he asked if she did what he asked her to do.  Again she nodded yes.  Finally, he said, “And what did God say to your question?” to which she answered, “God couldn’t remember.”

This story reminded me of what I was told as a child that I should “forgive and forget.”  Perhaps many of us heard similar advice from our parents and other adults.  Is forgetting an essential aspect of forgiveness?  If, unlike God, I cannot so easily forget, can I still be forgiving.  The answer is YES.  Read on to find out why this is so.

Such a view of forgiveness is not in the spirit of Worthington’s REACH recommendation.  In fact, he suggests that you Recall, in great detail, who and what requires your forgiveness.  What is your understanding of forgiveness?

Here are some ideas you can ponder while considering this question.  The concept of what forgiveness is NOT come from the work of Michael McCullough, who, like Everett Worthington, has actively studied forgiveness.  [See his book, Forgiveness: Theory, Research, and Practice (2000) co- authored with Kenneth Pargament and Carl Thoresen].  For McCullough et al. forgiveness is NOT:

PARDONING = a legal term

CONDONING = a justification of the offense

EXCUSING = the offender had a good reason for committing the offense

FORGETTING = the memory of the offense has simply decayed or slipped out of coonscious awareness

DENYING = an unwillingness to perceive the harmful injuries that one has incurred

RECONCILIATION = the restoration of a relationship

If none of the above is forgiveness, then what is it?

Robert D. Enright, a Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, provides a very useful and clear characterization of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is:

 “A willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and indifferent behavior toward one who has unjustly hurt us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity, and even love toward him or her.”

Now think of your definition.  How are Enright’s definition and yours alike?  How are they different?  Does yours add something important that Enright omitted from his conceptualization?  How does Enright’s add something valuable to yours?  Does this new understanding enhance your ability to forgive?

Posted in agingForgivenessmental healthspiritual issuesspirituality on 2 May 2010
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