Are There Unexpected Benefits Forgiveness?

To begin … I think it’s valuable to distinguish some conflicting beliefs about forgiveness. There is one school of thought that allows the act of forgiveness to be fully encapsulated in the words, “I forgive you.” Does uttering this phrase automatically constitute forgiveness? … or is it simply what you’re supposed to say?

There is Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, Always forgive your enemies-nothing annoys them so much. This stance does little to quell resentment, bond the conflicting parties or move issues forward. Instead of forgiveness let’s call this humorous advice on how to maintain “enemy status” with a noble appearance.

A different quote by the late theologian Lewis B. Smedes offers another kind of forgiveness: To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. This is forgiveness. This begs for no restorative justice or apology from the other party.

The important distinction

If we take Wilde’s stance we do the same or worse than not forgiving. We increase and propel the conflict into the future. This breathes life into resentment and anger.

There are some contemporary societal cues that will tell you … Don’t back down … Be strong … Don’t be a door mat! These are no doubt useful in certain circumstances, but in those trying moments of conflict is the best choice to always stand your ground? … or can you be strong enough to give up your position and forgive? If you’ve ever been involved in or remotely close to a divorce you’ve probably noticed the cost of taking the stance of … Don’t back down … or Be strong. Nothing against the practice of Family Law, but divorce lawyers continue to cash in on people’s unwillingness to forgive.

Smedes’ version offers completion. It is a conclusion. When we forgive we end the unkind kerfuffle once and for all. We can get on with our lives.

The urge to get restitution can be overwhelming. I know this all too well, as FAIRNESS is a core value of mine. I tend to get blindsided by the belief that getting even can be necessary. However, I ask you to consider that whatever satisfaction gained by winning this little battle of right v. wrong consistently pales in comparison to the grace and gift of true forgiveness.

In your own life have you noticed a willingness to forgive the way Dr Smedes is suggesting? This kind of forgiveness could also be described as “to give as before” … to actually give your

attention, listening and respect to the offender as if the incident never happened.

The benefits

So what is my advantage if I let some perpetrator off the hook?

Let’s start with freedom … a repetitive word in this blog, but worthy.

Freedom from what’s eating at you is what we’re talking about here. This may seem obvious by now, but in moments where forgiveness is lacking, holding on to resentment can be easily justified. The impact of which is similar to drinking the poison hoping the other person dies. This can go on so long we have completely forgotten what perpetration originally took place against us. Look at adult sibling relationships. It has become quite acceptable to have lifelong resentments exist in families dating back to adolescence. What’s the cost here? What’s available if one of the brothers or sisters were to forgive? What would that add to their quality of life? What burden could be relieved from their heart and mind?