This morning a young friend asked me if he should forgive a girl who he was romantically interested in, but who had cut him out of her life. She had apparently texted him and said “I’m sorry”. When he asked me, without hesitation, I told him that he should forgive her, but it has started me thinking. Where do we draw the line at forgiveness? Note however, I am speaking of forgiveness in a mild sense, not something as extreme as abuse, murder or anything else in that category.
Personally, I am a huge advocate of forgiveness. In my opinion, it is the giving, and receiving of forgiveness that makes the difference between a mistake and an absolute disaster. After all, all religions in the world teach us forgiveness, both asking and receiving. Where I come from, to repent for an act of harm or injustice against another person, you have to ask the persons you have wronged. It is not an act that can be forgiven by God (or any other higher power) if the person you have harmed hasn’t forgiven you. This is why we have a month in a year where it is tradition to go around asking for forgiveness. Not that you have to wait for this particular month to apologize.
When do we ask God (or any higher power you believe in)? Well, when we’ve done something that involves ourselves with no harm to others. Even then, it is not as easy as confessing and professing to never do it again. I suppose that’s how it should be. If you were really sorry of the things you’ve done, you would want to remember them and not repeat them. Just waking up with a hangover and saying “I’m never drinking again!” is not good enough without actual conviction.
So back to the question at hand: when do you stop forgiving someone? And if you do forgive them, how do you know if they really are sorry and will not do the same again? If you were to ask a parent, grandparent or any family member, I suppose the answer would be that they never stop forgiving with the hope that we find our ways. If you were to ask a friend, again, the line might be pretty far out there. With your manager or colleague, it might not take much at all, as there is no emotional investment there.
What about a lover or your life partner? Once I used to think that a forever relationship was made for perfect people who never messed up. Now that I’m older and understand things a bit more, I see that it is made up of many many “I’m sorrys” and an almost endless supply of forgiveness. I still wonder though, at which point is the “I’m sorry” no longer enough and the forgiveness runs out?
When I look back at my relationship with my dad, what made me finally walk away was not the way he left or the fact that the only thing that mattered to him was him. It was the lies and the fact that there was never a point when he was actually sorry about the things he had done to other people. He was only sorry about how his actions affected him. He was living a life which was made up of a lie over a lie over another lie, and it was that point that I just gave up on him and decided that I didn’t want to be stuck in his cycle anymore.
It took ten years, but as I moved from a very dark place to a place of lightness, I found that I could forgive him and I did. The first phone call was hard and by the end of it, we were both crying. I realized that I never stopped loving him. As I had never been sure that he had changed, I just had to take time to be strong enough to ensure that had he not changed, I would not fall back into the same cycle.
At the end of the day, I suppose each person is different and has different levels of tolerance. However, think of this. Maybe in forgiving you are telling someone that not all hope is lost for them. Maybe forgiveness is a light that you can give to someone who is lost in darkness. Maybe when you forgive, it is more for you than for them – it is an act of softening in order to be stronger. The magic of forgiveness is that it is not something that is received by default, but it can be given without request.
“Dare to reach your hand into the darkness to pull another hand into the light” – Norman B. Rice