Seeing forgiveness as a work in progress

Part of a series or articles on forgiveness in the Jubilee of Mercy.

In my last article I had written of forgiveness as both a personal choice — it will only happen if we want it so — and as a grace — forgiveness often is beyond our human capability and thus we need God’s help and grace to achieve it. Once we choose to forgive, forgiveness often takes time to develop and mature. Forgiveness is not just a simple word or gesture; it is often a process or “a work in progress.” It is like the seed that is planted and must be nurtured with care and time in order to blossom. We must not underestimate this aspect of forgiveness. The renowned forgiveness researcher, Michael McCullough, states forgiveness is “a brawny, muscular exercise.” Forgiveness — especially if the wound is deep — often requires a transformation of heart and a change of perspective regarding the offender. The process often requires determined will power, honesty, humility, assistance, accompaniment, stamina, a long-view of life and, perhaps, a new view on life.

While the process of forgiveness may take on many forms, I have found in the book, “The Choosing to Forgive Workbook,” by Les Carter, Ph.D. and Frank Minirth, M.D. a sound and practical way to approach forgiveness. The authors propose a “Twelve-Step” plan or process to forgiveness in an easy-to-read and use workbook form. Their plan approaches forgiveness from sound psychological and Christian principles. Both authors are experienced clinicians in the issues of forgiveness, anger, and depression. Their 12 steps are:

Step 1. Openly recognize wrong deeds to be wrong deeds.

Step 2. Recognize that your anger is not only normal, but necessary.

Step 3. Realize how ongoing bitterness will ultimately hurt you.

Step 4. Learn from your problems by establishing better boundaries.

Step 5. Refuse to be in the inferior position and resist the desire to be superior.

Step 6. Avoid the futility of judgments, letting God be the ultimate judge.

Step 7. Allow yourself permission to grieve.

Step 8. Confront the injuring party if appropriate.

Step 9. Find emotional freedom as you let go of the illusion to control.

Step 10. Choose forgiveness because it is part of your life’s mission.

Step 11. Come to terms with others’ wrong deeds by recognizing your own need for forgiveness.

Step 12. Become a source of encouragement to other hurting people.

As you can see, this process focuses more on change of oneself than the other. The grace of self-transformation is more within one’s control than in how we might change another (offender). The process of forgiveness might include justice or retribution regarding the offender (especially if a crime or grave offense has been committed); however, forgiveness will always focus on the healing of oneself and taking control of one’s path in life in a positive, grace-filled way.

One final note: While forgiveness begins in one’s mind and heart, a companion is often needed for the journey. Two qualities are essential of this companion: one who listens well (with mind and heart) and one who deeply cares. The renowned family therapist, talk show host and columnist, Daniel Gottlieb, calls listening “the great healer.” He writes in “Learning from the Heart”: “I noticed that the more I simply listened, the more people spoke to me. And the more people open their hearts, the more deeply I cared. …It was always about them — that is, other people — and their humanity. I had no responsibility to change anyone, only to listen and learn. And in the process, I discovered how to care deeply.”

Thus, seek a companion for the journey of forgiveness — a confidante, a member of the clergy, a spiritual director, a counselor — one who listens well and cares deeply. It must be noted, however, that this companion does not “have all the answers.” Nobody does. The answers come with the journey and in discovering new graced-filled perspectives. The companion is basically a trusted friend who can bring objectivity and wisdom to the process.

Categories: Columns, Forgiveness

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