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Can You Experience Joy Without an Offer of Forgiveness? 

We have been taking quite a journey over the last few weeks to better understand the nature of joy. Finding joy in your life is more complicated than just focusing on the sensations and feelings of joy. With today’s focus on forgiveness, I recommend as you read this blog that you consider who in your life has wronged you, hurt you, or disrespected you. Consider whether you are able to forgive them and what it would take for you to do that.

According to the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy, with regard to forgiveness the Dalai Lama says, “It does not mean we forget. You should remember the negative thing, but because there is a possibility to develop hatred, we mustn’t follow ourselves to be led in that direction—we choose forgiveness.”

The Archbishop added to this that forgiveness does not mean you forget what someone has done, contrary to saying “forgive and forget.” The Archbishop spoke of Nelson Mandela as an amazing icon of forgiveness. “We cannot say of anyone at all that they are totally unable to forgive. I think that all of us have the latent potential to be sorry for these others who are disfiguring their humanity… Indeed no one is incapable of forgiving and no one is unforgivable.”

Defining forgiveness is one of the challenges researchers and students of forgiveness struggle to achieve. Schiraldi and Kerr in The Anger Management Sourcebook state that, “Forgiving means that we choose to release resentment, hatred, bitterness, desires for revenge for wrongs done to us; it is a way to come to peace with the past. In forgiving, we decide to break our troubling connection to the offender. We realize that no offense is worth the price of destroying our peace. Forgiving is taking the arrows out of our gut, rather than twisting them around inside us. We move away from it beyond the offender and the offense and take full responsibility for our present happiness. We choose to forgive so that we will suffer less and be free to live. Forgiving is a personal choice that does not depend on the offender’s deserving it, asking for it, or expressing remorse–although this certainly can make forgiving easier. Forgiving is about the offended person’s inner strength, rather than the offenders. We voluntarily forgive because we realize that getting even does not heal.”

Forgiveness is the mental, emotional, and spiritual process of letting go of resentment, indignation, or anger against another person for a perceived offense, difference, or mistake. It can also mean ceasing to demand punishment or restitution for transgressions, real or imagined. Although forgiveness may be granted without any expectation of compensation, and without any response on the part of the offender, it is sometimes necessary for the offender to offer some form of acknowledgment, apology, or restitution; this can often open the way for the person who perceives to be wronged to feel empowered to forgive.

The world’s religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings provide an underlying basis for varying modern day traditions and practices. In Psalm 32:5, scripture says, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” According to Matthew 6:14, 15,  “ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Continuing with information from The Book of Joy, Bishop Tutu noted that not reacting with negativity, or giving in to the negative emotions, does not mean you allow yourself to be harmed again. Forgiveness does not mean that you do not seek justice or that the perpetrator is not punished.

Sometimes people misunderstand and think forgiveness means you accept or approve of wrongdoing. Not at all. We must make an important distinction… The actor and action, or the person and what he has done. Where the wrong action is concerned, it may be necessary to take appropriate counteraction to stop it.

For the actor, or the person, however, you can choose not to develop anger and hatred. This is where the power of forgiveness lies— not in losing sight of the humanity of the person while responding to the wrong with clarity and firmness.”  The Archbishop added, “Forgiveness is the only way to shield ourselves and to be free from the past….Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound to the chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our jailor.”

When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberator.”   It is totally wrong, “…to say that practice of tolerance and practice of forgiveness are signs of weakness. Totally wrong. Hundred percent wrong. Thousand percent wrong. Forgiveness is a sign of strength.”

I hope you have gained clarity, as I did, on just how important forgiveness is in the process of experiencing joy.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. What key principles and definitions resonate with you and give you clarity about the nature of forgiveness? 
  2. What thoughts, feelings, sensations, images and/or memories pop up for you as you ponder this question?
  3. Does anyone specific come to mind that you might want to forgive both to care for them and to open your life to greater joy? What specifically do you need to do to accomplish this?

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