“A Spiritual Inquiry:
How and Why Should we Forgive?”
By: Michele Babcock-Nice
March 20, 2012
Forgiveness. What is forgiveness? And, how and why should we forgive? Who should we forgive? Forgiveness – the act of forgiving – is a spirituality issue that I have contemplated and grappled with in my own life. It is something that I have experienced, myself, through others, and by observing others. Why is it important for us to forgive ourselves and each other? These are topics of personal relevance, as well as relevance for the greater population.
Forgiveness is not only something that must be taught, it must be learned. People must model forgiveness with each other and encourage it among one another in order for it to have full and far-reaching positive effects. Jesus taught and commanded that people forgive each other, so that both we and our sins will be forgiven by God.
Colossians 3:13 states, “Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (The Holy Bible, 1979). Mark 11:26 states, “But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (The Holy Bible, 1979). Matthew 6: 14-15 also shares, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” The Holy Bible, 1979). The Bible and Jesus’ teachings, therefore, instruct us that we are to forgive each other.
One of my favorite Bible passages that is very humbling to me is Matthew 18: 21-22, which states, “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (The Holy Bible, 1979).
This passage reminds us that we are not perfect, that none of us are perfect, and that, to me, is very humbling. When I think of the mistakes that I make and sins that I commit, whether unintentionally or not, it never fails to humble me when I hear and contemplate these verses. Jesus wants us to forgive each other seventy times seven times, that’s nearly 500 times! One must understand the general idea, however, is not to just forgive each other once, twice, or even a few times, but repeatedly, without end. That also reminds me of how fallible and human we truly are, and that we are actually in need of forgiveness, by each other and of ourselves.
Luke 6: 36-37 further teaches us to be kind, merciful, and forgiving, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:” (The Holy Bible, 1979). Luke 6 actually teaches us many things about each other in addition to this, such as being good to the poor and giving to one another.
Luke 6 provides us with an opportunity to reflect on who we are as people – to reflect on our characters and true natures. Are we people who truly have goodness in our hearts? Are our thoughts, words, and actions motivated by and intended to help and support each other and ourselves? Do we honestly hope to be caring, compassionate, understanding, merciful, and forgiving toward each other?
The Bible and Jesus’ teachings, therefore, instruct and direct us to forgive each other. Not only are we to forgive each other a few or several times, but countless times, for we are fallible, we are human, we are children of God who are progressing through our learning stages of life. When we ask others to forgive us, we are humbling ourselves to their mercy.
When we ask God to forgive us, He is forgiving and provides us with free will, but also with the understanding that we should not do the same wrong over again; we must correct ourselves. If one is Catholic and goes to reconciliation, he or she shares those transgressions that he or she has committed with a priest, who, through God’s power and mercy, forgives us. Again, however, we are called not to commit the same wrongs or sins in the future.
Just the other day, my young son was upset with me. He brought a library book home from school that I did not approve of. It was a comic-style book that was geared toward older children, though I am aware that the particular theme of the book was not something that I agreed with, nor was it entirely emotionally or mentally healthy for him. I allowed him to read it one day, with the express understanding that he could read it during that one day, but not following that day. I was aware that he was tired, and had not slept well the previous night, though he was very attracted to reading this book. It was my intention to return the book to the school library on the next school day, which I did.
So, my son became upset with me when he tried to look at and read this comic-style book on a day when I had not allowed it. I spoke with him about it, again explaining my reasons behind it. He is aware of my views on such books, though, as a youngster who is, at times, testing his limits, he can be persistent about his wants and desires. So, when I refused to allow him to read the book on the next day, he was mad and upset about it. Understandably, he wants to fit in and be like the other boys, but he knows that he is my child and that the other boys are not – their parents can have them do as they wish.
In my son being angry and upset with me, I recognized his desire to get something that he wanted. I reminded him that he did read the comic book on the one day, but could not do so the next day. I then asked him to forgive me. And…he did. I told him that I love him and that I want the best for him, and then, I gave him some time to himself. Soon thereafter, he came around, and found something else to stimulate his interest.
I believe that this is a manner in which God and Jesus want us to behave. It is important to have strong morals, ethics, beliefs, values, and principles. This is something that I am trying to instill into my son. By sticking to my views, beliefs, and principles – and by asking my son for his understanding and forgiveness – he more readily showed his appreciation and respect for me and my values.
This example may be something minor in most of our lives, though it is something that is important to be taught, learned, and modeled. In this way, I am teaching forgiveness to my son, even in regard to my expectation about his acceptance of my values and principles for his upbringing. These are also good reasons for asking for and receiving forgiveness.
An area of forgiveness that is not often addressed or recognized is of forgiving oneself. This is extremely important – we must forgive ourselves. Who, among us, teaches how valuable it is to forgive ourselves? I am aware of a recent Lenten Retreat at my church in which the religious speaker, a priest, spoke of forgiving ourselves as the theme for the event. And, how and why must we forgive ourselves? This is a significant question to which there can be many answers.
When was the last time you ever thought about forgiving yourself? Why, you ask, should you forgive yourself? This is an issue of much contemplation, prayer, and reflection for me because I know that I am not perfect – I am human, I am fallible. Yet, I can also be very hard and tough on myself, not giving myself credit where it is due, blaming myself, depriving myself, sacrificing things from myself, being down on myself. I always try to have a positive attitude and outlook on everything, but I also recognize that I have very high standards and expectations of not only others, but also of myself.
Therefore, I must forgive myself. I must forgive myself for being human, for being fallible, for making mistakes, for being too hard on myself, for not being good enough or kind enough to myself. In forgiving myself, I am more readily able to forgive others. I am also more easily able to view others as human, as fallible, just like I am. For me, it is also a much healthier perspective. If I forgive myself, I feel better and happier, not only about myself, but everything.
When I forgive myself, my outlook is improved, things are not as worrisome or stressful as they were, and I take it easier on myself, allowing myself to enjoy life, my family, and others more. I don’t need to make things so hard for myself, nor to be as hard on myself. So, I must and do forgive myself for all of these things. I am better able to be forgiving, loving, nurturing, kind, and compassionate to others in doing so.
Lastly, and something also not often commented on or recognized is that in forgiving each other and ourselves, that does not continue to open the door to being vulnerable to being hurt by others or ourselves. We must express our views, standards, and expectations to others, and insist that those are met, so that we are not vulnerable to being wronged by them again.
If we are wronged by those whom we forgive, then we are called to forgive them, though I believe we must continue to insist upon the manner in which we desire to be treated by them. If they do not improve in their words or actions, then we must forgive them, but we must also help ourselves, perhaps by seeking to further understand them and/or distancing ourselves from them.
And, we must open our eyes and recognize ways in which we are not helpful to and loving of ourselves. We must forgive ourselves for those actions, but also work on improving our actions toward ourselves. We must create a mindset that is loving, helpful, and healthy to and for ourselves. Therefore, forgiving ourselves, and working to improve the manner in which we view and treat ourselves are also important aspects of forgiveness that are valuable and significant.
One issue with which I have been working on forgiving myself is my divorce and the choice that I made in a spouse. I, ultimately, desired to reconcile and remain in my marriage, though it was extremely difficult and challenging; it was my former spouse who ended our marriage. I remained faithful to my spouse and dedicated to my family in the midst of challenges which were unbearable at the time.
It was during those times – as well as times past and present – that I leaned on God, Jesus, and my faith for survival – for the survival of my soul and spirit. It is in my faith that I continually take comfort, though I also recognize that I work, daily, to forgive myself for my decisions that have harmed myself and my family. I recognize that one cannot force a person to believe and behave in the manner in which the other desires, though I also believe, however, in the importance and healthfulness of forgiving myself and my former spouse, not only for the good of myself, but also for that of my son and family.
Forgiveness, therefore, is and should be a huge part of our lives. How often do you forgive others and yourself? What are the ways in which you forgive? Do you willingly accept forgiveness when it is offered to you? Do you seek to keep a healthy perspective in mind, body, and spirit by recognizing and forgiving yourself and others?
Also, when you forgive, do you help yourself by expressing expectations of those who have wronged you so that they understand and respect you more, thereby reducing your own vulnerability to them? And, are there times when you may not have done anything wrong, but are still able to ask forgiveness so that it will help improve the situation or assist another in feeling better about themselves – it takes a person of strong character to do that, even if he or she is further blamed or wronged.
Forgiveness is an act on which we must place greater value. Forgiveness is freeing and healthy for our minds, bodies, souls, and spirits. Forgiveness is something that we should practice each day, in asking God to forgive us, in requesting others to forgive us, and in forgiving and being more loving to ourselves. We must remember that we are all human; all of us are fallible. Therefore, we must continually forgive, as Jesus taught and instructed us, so that we may, in turn, be forgiven.
Fairchild, M. “What does the Bible say about Forgiveness?” March 20, 2012. http://christianity.about.com/od/whatdoesthebiblesay/a/bibleforgivenes.htm
The Holy Bible (1979). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.