What Is It To Forgive?

I’m having a lot of trouble with today’s prompt. It’s from Natalie Goldberg: ”Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

The trouble is not that I am afraid to write what disturbs me, or to be split open. The trouble is, I pretty much always write about the things that split me open, soooo… what to write about? well, I mean, there are some things I haven’t shared. And I won’t share them, either, because they involve the stories of people I love, who deserve their privacy.

Ah. And what about those who don’t “deserve their privacy”? What about the prompt of several days ago, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better”? That prompt led to this story about a bad boyfriend, which ended up being by far the most popular thing I’ve written on this blog (though not the most popular thing I’ve ever written–that would be, oddly enough, this post about making fake food. I’m as baffled as anyone.)

Which got me thinking about forgiveness. Because, you see, I thought I pretty much had forgiven that college boyfriend, until I wrote that entry. So, I guess, time to split that one open (cringe). Yup, here’s something that disturbs me: The assortment of thoughts I had while writing it.

  • What if he or someone he knows reads this and decides to sue me (and then I looked him up and found out he’s a lawyer now)? Yikes.
  • What if he or someone he knows reads this and thinks, “Well, I guess I meant a lot to her since she’s still thinking of me”? Ew.
  • What if he or someone he knows reads this and thinks, “Well, she got her revenge”? Well, yeah.
  • What if I become a famous writer and then people look back on this and it becomes well-known, and people write about it and speculate about who “the boyfriend” was and life becomes a living hell for him? Awesome!
  • What if he or someone he knows reads this and then he looks me up and he thinks, “Wow, I missed out on a good thing. Sure wish I’d treated her better.” Oh my gawd. Why why why does a thought like this even cross my mind? Gag.

Yes I. I, who wrote the piece about forgiving the 9/11 hijackers. I have invested hours of my precious thinking time plotting pen-mightier-than-the-sword revenge against a man who once, as a young fellow, behaved badly toward me (OVER THE COURSE OF A YEAR AND A HALF my vindictive inner voice cries out NOT JUST ONCE!).


Well, so what. SO WHAT. If he wanted me to write warmly about him… well…

I am not obligated to forgive. In fact, as this article eloquently describes, it’s a mistake to forgive too easily and quickly, or to feel obligated to forgive at all. Not my job. Not my job at all.


Of course. Well, there’s this. “Forgiveness frees us from bitterness and anger. We become free from the harm that resentment does to our souls. Our hearts can become wild once more.” (Courtesy my friend Angela Koestler Knipfing.)

Well and the truth is, I know this is true, because at one time I HAD forgiven him, and many others as well. It is a beautiful feeling to forgive.

So why–oh why!–does it come back like this, why should I again give head space to someone who has occupied nearly none of it for so long?

Well, I guess it’s like this. Forgiveness is not a constant state. It’s sad and unfair, but forgiveness is not something we do once and then are done. Like life itself, forgiveness is a journey. It is a thing we must undertake again and again, especially when the hurt has been deep.

So I undertake it. I remember the people who have harmed me and I think of them as innocent children. I think of their hurts, their pains. I think of how torn up inside they must be. And then I say, “I forgive you.”

And it is not a thing I do only once. It is a thing I do again and again. And every time one of their names pops into my head, and my heart begins to race with anger, I say, “I forgive you.” A funny thing happens then. The tension goes out of my face. My shoulders sink into relaxation. My breathing returns. And my heart is set free.

P.S. If you, like me, struggle to forgive someone sometimes, you might find this resource to be as helpful as I have:



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