Thursday, May 28, 2009

Forgiving Ourselves and Others

Sometimes horrible things happen to innocent people. It is easy to become paralyzed by the bitterness we feel towards the offender or by the guilt we feel. We can become our own worst enemies when we live in shame, blame, and guilt because of the innocent or malicious choices of another.

A few years ago, I volunteered in the Rape Recovery Center in our city. As I worked in community outreach, manned the rape crisis hot line, and trained with rape survivors, I discovered that most rape survivors blame themselves. Because they are so helpless at the time that are abused, they absorb the thinking of the perpetrator, who often believes the victim wants or deserves to be raped.

Some who have never been sexually abused (one-third of women in the United States have and one-seventh of men have) may be paralyzed with shame. Many judge themselves very harshly and need to forgive themselves for innocent mistakes. Others cannot forgive themselves after they have repented from their sins.

When we have been grievously injured, we face the challenge of forgiving our offender. If we decide not to forgive, we will eventually become poisoned by the bitterness we harbor. Although we may not be able to forgive another immediately, some changes in the way we think can help us forgive anyone--includings ourselves and even our worst enemy.

First, we need to try to view the person who injured us from God's perspective. You and the offender are both children of God, and He loves you both. You do not know the heart of the offender, but God does, and you can turn judgment over to God. That is such a freeing process.

Next, we can show empathy toward the offender. We can picture him as a wounded child or a dying elderly person. As we do, we can realize that if the offender were whole, he would not have injured you. We can process your pain by writing the offender a letter (and choosing whether or not to mail it), imagining oourselves speaking to the offender (or sharing your pain with him or her privately), or letting God know how much we've suffered. We can ask God to heal us and help us to forgive. We may or may not choose to allow the offender into our life again, but we can still forgive.

We know that we have truly forgiven when we can ask God to bless our offender and mean it. When God asks us to forgive others, He asks us to also forgive ourselves. Sometimes we are less forgiving of ourselves than we are of others.

When we accept the reality that God never causes evil--but that He is bound by the law of agency that allows us and others to make mistakes, sin, and hurt one another--we can find peace amid suffering. We can love and forgive God, who never really needed our forgiveness in the first place. We can love ourselves even when we are flawed, mortal, and imperfect. And we can forgive our offenders, which is truly one of the most healing gifts that we can give ourselves.

© Carol Brown


  1. This is such a complex issue. I am so glad you tackle it. Does forgiveness mean letting them into your life? What exactly does it mean? When do you know you've truly forgiven? I wonder these things.

  2. A wise friend once commented that after we forgive someone, we need not invite him or her to a barbeque. Some people are too dangerous to allow into our hearts or homes.

    One way we know that we have truly forgiven someone is when they can move peacefully through our minds--without bitterness or hatred. We may still feel great sorrow for the choices they made, but we turn judgment to a Higher Power.

    When we can ask God to bless an offender--and truly mean it--we know we have forgiven. That is way Jesus asks us to pray for our enemies and bless them that curse us and despitefully use us. When we able to do this--and it may take time--we know we have truly forgiven.

    Forgiving is not forgetting. It does not condone bad--even evil--behavior. It requires great courage, humility, and love. I believe it is one of the highest forms of love.


Thanks for commenting. I learn so much from the things you write.