We can find reasons to forgive people because at some point we will need forgiveness. Usually, when the person who has injured us shows contrition for their actions it becomes easier. In showing contrition the person is telling us they have learned from the experience and through self-reflection realize their own errors. This is important because we need our feelings validated and the safety of the relationship re-established before we can forgive. But how do we move forward when there is no contrition and no validation of our feelings?
As a young man, I struggled with forgiving my father for abusing me. My Christian faith led me to believe I was compelled to forgive him. Every Sunday I would say the “Our Father” prayer at church. Every Sunday I would get a constant reminder that I needed to forgive; “please forgive us for our trespass as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But no matter how much I prayed, no matter how much I cried, no matter how much I faked it, I was left with this anger in the pit of my stomach. I just felt this hate toward my father that I could not conquer. Unknowingly, this hate spilled out into other parts of my life. I blamed myself for things that were out of my control, my communication with my wife and children were strained all because of this anger I could no longer manage. Then I read something an article that didn’t make sense to me at first, but after sitting with it for a few weeks it made perfect sense.
You see, I had mistakenly believed that forgiving my father would be freeing him to move forward with his life without the weight of his consequences. I was wrong. This is what I learned… First, forgiveness cannot be earned, it has to be given. The fact that he did not ask for it does not matter and would not make this process easier. Second, and most importantly, I learn that forgiveness isn’t an act for the person who transgressed. This was not about my father, it was about me and the person I wanted to become. Forgiving my father does not give him absolution for what he did to me. Neither was it freeing him from the consequences of his actions. He had to continue to carry his sins until his death… However, in forgiving my father I was able to let go of an anger that I carried all my life. I was able to release it from my soul and in doing so, I found that elusive peace I have been searching for.