Thursday, January 7, 2010

Forgive, Let Go, Move On

One of the thornier issues of life is forgiveness.

We associate forgiveness with giving in, relinquishing a hurt or source of anger for the sake of peacemaking. In doing so, it may feel like—in the forgiving—we are giving up a part of ourselves to rectify the situation. In this case, forgiveness may look quite prickly. What if we could shift our perception of forgiveness, revealing the beauteous gift within, a rose of our own making? Can we look at the act of forgiveness in a new light?

Often in my life, I've found myself stubbornly holding to my point of view when a point of conflict would arise. It was so important to be right! I'd dig in my heels. Not surprisingly arguments would ensue, for if one or both partners passionately holds to what they believe is "right," there is little room for forgiveness to find its way in. Grudges and resentment build, and, over time, a great sludgy mess is created.

Another pattern I often found myself in was to tire of the ensuing conflict and just plain give in to get it over with. To self-sacrifice what I knew to be true for me for the sake of peace did not result in peace either, but more resentment. Over time, either of these patterns could be quite destructive to any relationship.

Today I view the act of forgiveness much differently. It is no longer, "giving in" or "giving up." It is "letting go." Letting go of my need to be right. Letting go of my need to have the last word. Letting go of my need to convince someone of my point of view. And most importantly, it is not letting someone else off the hook.

This seems to me to be the primary roadblock to a new understanding of forgiveness. We believe, on some level, that by forgiving someone we are letting them off easy. They have hurt us or committed what we perceive to be a wrongful act. So if we forgive them, it somehow condones what they did or diminishes the power of the act in some way.

A friend of mine, Eldonna Edwards Bouton, authored a book about forgiveness:
Loose Ends: A Journaling Tool for Tying Up the Incomplete Details of Your Life and Heart. She describes the act of forgiving in this way:

"Imagine the person that you cannot forgive as someone who once held a fishing pole. They've set down the pole and gone on to other things, perhaps even hurting others. In the meantime, you are still floundering in the murky waters of the past, snagged on their hook. As long as you are spending precious energy resenting, hating and being angry, you will be unable to swim freely. What I am asking you to do is gently remove the hook that keeps you entangled in the past "

In this way, forgiveness is not letting someone else off the hook, it is letting yourself off the hook. Isn't that a wonderful way to look at forgiveness? Knowing this, couldn't it be much easier to forgive someone? If the situation in question is not about being right, or about retribution, but about personal freedom, wouldn't that make all the difference in the world? For me, it has.

Today, when I find myself experiencing a difference of opinion with someone (especially about a perceived hurt), I have a choice how to look at it. I can expend emotional energy trying to prove myself right or make someone else see the "wrongness" of what they did. Or I can let the situation go, release myself from its emotional intensity, and move on.

This is not to say that in many situations it is not right to stand up for what we know to be right and true. Or that justice should be served; wrongdoing brought to light. That goes without saying. But in many other situations, we waste precious time and energy attempting to make someone see the error of their ways, because after all, can we ever really change anybody?
The only person we can change or have control over is us, and when we engage in forgiveness we
are gifting ourselves with personal freedom. By forgiving, I am free to let go and move on to the next enlightening experience. Seen in an even broader light, an act of forgiveness is an act of self-healing.

Granting forgiveness to another may be the greatest act of self-love and self-healing we can perform.

Forgiveness is not an easy thing by any means. But by not forgiving, we continue to add to our own sack of pain. Why not lighten the load and lay down those grudges and resentments of great weight, and walk more lightly through life? One of my goals in 2010 is to forgive any and all who need forgiving in my life. In doing so, I will dance through this new year, a much lighter, brighter woman.

How about you?

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts ...  

(Image courtesy of


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Carolynn said...

Excellent. I had, in the past, stumbled over the concept of forgiveness meaning that I was somehow condoning the offensive behaviour. Once I got clear of that, the path to healing became so much more clear.

Withholding forgiveness is me hurting myself while the other guy goes along merrily unaware of the pain I'm experiencing. I'M the one doing the suffering in that scenario.

The success or happiness of the other person, in no way, diminishes me.

In my experience, I've found that as long as I hold onto the hurts in the form of resentment, I'm filling my heart & my life up with useless trash. As soon as I release it, I free up room for beautiful new things to enter in. Happens every time.

Blessings, Wise Woman.

My word verification: gesized. That's good, right?

Anonymous said...

This IS a difficult issue. Theologically, different religious traditions view the idea of forgiveness very...differently.

The Jewish tradition, for example, says it is the task of the person who committed the hurt to ASK for forgiveness.

Very different from a traditional Christian concept.

And I like the idea that the person has to be responsible and recognize they have done "wrong."

The distinction that has helped me THE MOST is that Forgiveness is just that and nothing more -- it is distinct and separate from Reconciliation.

Good stuff, that.

Reconciliation does not HAVE to happen.

If you WANT it to, forgiveness must come first, and that is how they are joined, if at all.

Sara said...

I came to your site from Spin Diva and I'm very pleased I did.

I really liked this post. This year, I had something happen with someone in my family which hurt me deeply and could not be resolved.

In the past, I would have stayed angry and upset. I would have, as you said, stayed on the hook:~)

For the first time, I didn't fight what happened, I let it go and forgave both myself and the person. It was the most freeing feeling I've ever felt!

Thanks for reminding me of this and for sharing such a beautifully written post:~)

SheilaC said...

THANK YOU for this post about forgiveness... many of us in the blogging/quilting world have chosen a "word" that signifies something we want to work on in the new year.

MY word is FORGIVE. I am carrying many past hurts around with me and I know that it is hurting me even more to do this. Yet I find it hard to let go...

I felt that I was meant to find this post (I happened here via "Kindness Matters", to your Meditation Challenge)....

I will look for that book that you mentioned and I hope through your meditation challenge to gain the spiritual strength to forgive.


Jan said...

I am applauding you here and just amazed at the wisdom you have shared about this issue. I still have miles to go with this one, at least with 2 people that I know of. :-) It IS about giving ourselves ultimate freedom. But I have also learned this can take time when the wound is very deep. We must be gentle with ourselves as we let go. Nothing can be forced.

Another powerful perspective. Thank you for this and pointing out the differences. I love what you say here about reconciliation. No, it does not have to happen, but if it does, under the right circumstances for mutual healing, how grand. So important that we honor our inner wisdom on this issue.

Jan said...

Welcome, so glad you are here. Your story is wonderful and a true testimony to what can happen when we connect with our truest, wisest self and can let go of what keeps us imprisoned. You are a very smart lady...

Nice to meet you and have you here. I appreciate your honesty about the status of forgiveness for you. With that powerful intention, I trust that forgiveness and healing will come. In divine timing....

Glad to have you at the Challenge too and I will hope that both these sites and the wonderful women who frequent them will be new soul companions for you. It will be my pleasure to do so as well. Blessings!

Sharon said...

I really like the idea of letting myself off the hook. This idea of letting go, whether it's a negative story or an old hurt, is important for me to sit with in this new year. There is a fresh start to be made if I choose it. Sometimes I am my biggest obstacle, held back by fear or ego or past experiences. I can change that and am headed in the right direction to do just that. Thank you, Jan, for the encouragement.

Angela Recada said...

Thank you for this, Jan. It's something I'm struggling with again this week, even though I thought I had conquered it in this particular situation.

I'll be re-reading your wonderful words as often as it takes to get me though this. It's a real challenge to hang onto forgiveness when someone continues to trample your very core at every encounter, re-opening old wounds. And you cannot exclude them from your life completely, since they are an elderly parent.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jan - I haven't forgotten the Meditation .. !

Re forgiveness - Family is difficult because your bias in their (perceived by you) relationship to you - doesn't change .. and I find that very difficult to deal with: especially being on my own, with only myself to lighten the load - I can do it.

I find intransigence difficult to deal with - people who are black or white, but never smudged at the edges of their thought .. just possibly you might be right or have a sensible idea - just possibly??!!

Time can help .. and I hope that the lessons I'm learning will guide me once I'm totally able to be myself again - I'm sure they will.

Thanks - Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Jan said...

This is just great how you are making so many new beginnings this year. Wow! And, yes, letting ourselves off the hook is a very big deal. It feels to me like a true act of self-care. :-)

Oh, this is tough one! Yes, much easier to forgive when someone is not around. I do wonder about a compassion practice. Have you thought about metta? It has healing persistent woundings in me. I still have one person who I allow to regularly stomp on my heart. Funny thing though, as I have "allowed" it in less and less, she has stopped doing it. She has even become fairly thoughtful. I amazing at the transformative power of this practice. I will hold you in heart, thought, and prayer about this one...

Jan said...

What strikes me the most about all that you shared, Hilary, is how important it is to continue to be gentle with and kind to ourselves, no matter what! Kindness matters, esp kindness to self. Be well....

Carolynn said...

My colleague said something today that I thought tied in beautifully with the theme of your post here and I thought it was worthy of passing along.

"Be better, not bitter"

Wilma Ham said...

What strikes me is that we have forgotten the meaning of many important words, like forgiveness.
My daughter and I talked about it and we have trouble distinguishing to forgive with implying that we are okay with what had happened.
What I am startign to understand is that Forgiveness is first and foremost an act to yourself, and from forgiving you give yourself freedom to choose how you want to be around that person in the future.
Forgiveness is a very powerful, isn't it? The whole Ho'Oponopono concept that is based on forgiving is amazing.
Oh, I love the things we are finally learning.

Patty - Why Not Start Now? said...

Hi Jan - This is my first visit; clicked over from Sara's site. You bring such warmth to your writing about forgiveness, and I too like the hook metaphor. And in that unhooking, that action of letting go, I've discovered what helps me tremendously is empathy. To try to stand in another's shoes and see their world view. Of course, as you say, this doesn' t mean agreeing with what was done. Thanks for this.

Terie said...

I think this post is fantastic and so much truth to it. I know I have and sometimes still struggle with the idea of forgiveness, not because I want to hold on to anger or not forgive someone but the idea of giving in when I knew I was right..HA!! I have found that it's much more calming and rewarding to forgive and let go. Sometimes that person comes back to say you were right and wow that's a great feeling too. ;-)

Anyway, you know I'm reading your book and I have 3 other friends doing the same. I have read the first section several times and each time I discover something else about myself.

Jan said...

I like this very much, what your colleague shared. It makes such sense. Be better, not bitter. Profound and comforting...Thank you!

Yes, beautiful learning going on. The more we can embrace forgiveness as an act of deep self-love and care, the more we embrace our innate wholeness. Glad that you are walking this path....

Welcome! I'm with you that putting ourselves in another shoes builds compassion and fosters forgiveness. Until I could put myself in my ex-husband's shoes to understand his deep woundedness, I could not forgive. Blessings to you as you journey into greater forgiveness....

Jan said...

It sounds as if you are on a powerful journey of forgiveness and I salute you for that. It is not an easy road but it ultimately brings great blessings. :-) I appreciate you reading my book and sharing it with friends. Are you aware there is a free discussion guide that goes with it? Just click on the Books link here and you will find how to access it. Enjoy and may you be blessed.

Michelle said...

"Forgiveness" has been a bit of a theme in my life these last few days ... Jan, you have summed up exactly how I feel when I 'let go' of the emotion and allow myself to heal. Thank You. Forgiveness is empowering and enlightening. Well, that's how I feel. (smile)

Jan said...

Forgiveness has many hidden benefits, one of which seems to be just a general sense of well-being. We breathe easier, we sleep better, we are definitely more free to be our truest selves. :-)