In fifty-eight years of hard living, I’ve done my share of things for which I would like to be forgiven.
In a recent conversation with my son, I ruminated about the concept of “forgiveness”. He does not like the act of apology or the response to apologies, that is, “forgiveness”. I won’t try to articulate his reasoning. For myself, I think of my tendering forgiveness as a short-hand for acknowledging that the person whose conduct I am “forgiving” intended me no ill-will; felt their behavior was necessary, desirable or justified; and is entitled to their own behavior choices. I am telling them, “I accept you, even though I might have preferred you behaved differently.”
Gratitude, on the other hand, is an acknowledgment that someone has done something intended to meet my needs. I appreciate that they have done so. If they met my needs — or tried to do so — without a request, I feel even more thankful for them; but even the person who responds to my request for behavior that will meet a need has done something for me which nets my gratitude.
“Forgiving” and “forgetting” are not synonyms. But even if we remember a transgression, we can preserve our relationship with that person. We can tell them: “I would have preferred that you had behaved differently, but I will not sever our relationship because you did not do so.” We can honor them, and our connection to them, even if they have done something we do not like.
Someone who objects to another’s behavior as not meeting their needs is certainly free to do so. But they are also free to forgive. I think the reason we say, “to err is human, to forgive is divine”, lies in the nature of forgiveness as something that we voluntarily tender to the other, give without expectation, offer despite the other’s fear that our displeasure will cause us to disown them.
The unforgiving soul rejects another because their behavior has failed to meet their needs. But the unforgiving soul causes harm mostly to themselves. The person who has not met the unforgiver’s needs can still bestow mercy on themselves, while the unforgiving soul loses a friend and runs the risk of permanently destroying their own inner peace.
I ask forgiveness when my behavior fails to meet another’s needs. If I can, I change my behavior. If I cannot, I offer an explanation of why I feel compelled to persist. If the other cannot forgive me, I examine my motives. If I feel I have intended no offense, I offer myself forgiveness for the unintended pain that I cause the other.
Where someone has met my needs, or endeavored to do so, I express my appreciation. But if I act in a manner that is intended to meet another’s needs, I strive to do so without expectation that I receive their expression of gratitude.
Ultimately, my actions meet my need to perform in a certain way with respect to those around me. I strive to be a certain type of person, and I find pleasure in attaining that goal. When I fail, if that failure rises not from intent but human frailty, I accept myself, and continue.
I find that those who cannot forgive often also cannot acknowledge gifts tendered to them, especially the gift of love. These poor souls do not offend me. Instead, I find myself feeling almost pity for them, especially because they carry themselves with self-righteous indignation. “You did not act as I expected,” they scoff. They banish you. In doing so, they might rid themselves of your failures, but they lose your love, as well. I shake my head, and let them go. I hope they will find that perfect person who will never fail them. I am not she.
I’d rather be forgiving than be right; I’d rather be thankful than feel entitled. I have not always felt this way, but now, in this moment, I’ve never felt so sure of the rightness of my inclinations.