On being forgiven

“Brady, … Forgiveness: its meaning, its application. What we can gleam from it? How to distinguish within ourselves when it is genuine? What happens next? What does it mean to forgive? How does it relate to the idea of moving on? Can there truly be forgiveness without forgetting?

This is a great topic, and such a necessary one to spend time on. As I tend to do, I like to sit a little longer with thoughts and feelings and find a way to describe what it is to sit with those thoughts, feelings, ideas, and questions. That stylistic preface aside, to me, forgiveness can narrowly be viewed as a two-fold transactional process: on one end we can ask for it, and receive it, and on the other end we can give it or not give it. However, I think it is vastly larger than that, and within that vastness, it is hard to find and harder still to move beyond.

I say that because for two people forgiveness can be in entirely different places and look like entirely different unspoken concepts. For some, forgiveness involves forgetting what was wronged, for others it involves a surrender to another person and a recognition that it is their choice to allow you back into their life, and for a few, forgiveness is not a healthy option because to forgive and let someone back in is to invite more hurt. In this way, forgiveness is about the opportunity for two people to come back together, both moving towards one another, and a willingness to travel the distance between the gulf of that hurt.

To be forgiven, that divide must be acknowledged. In acknowledging that divide, forgiveness can be asked for, apologies can be made, and amends can be offered to heal that rupture of trust and to close the distance. That might be enough.

For some, it isn’t enough, and forgiveness isn’t given because apologies weren’t believed to be sincere enough, amends weren’t done the right way, or any other hollow rationale wherein we simply do not want to believe another person. We don’t have to believe an apology is genuine, but to not accept an apology is more about our choice to not accept it than it is about distinguishing the genuineness of the apology that was offered. If you choose to not forgive another person, own it fully as your choice, because whether or not the other person deserves an honest reply, you deserve to be honest with yourself about the choices you are making.

To sit a little deeper, what if we want forgiveness and it isn’t given? Is it then our duty to continually offer apologies in the hopes of getting closer, because as the wounding party we should be eternally apologetic? Is that what asking for forgiveness truly means: an ongoing act of continual apologizing and wanting to be close to another person, and a continual asking of forgiveness? If I could offer you any comfort, or any kind answer about what to do, or what guidance to give, when it seems like you can’t do enough to gain someone’s forgiveness, it would simply be this: you’ve done enough. At some point we must accept another person’s decision to not offer forgiveness, and that is their decision to make. We can be left alone, still wanting to be close to another person, and with no where to go but away from them.

If we are forgiven, it means we are close again, and that is significant. Its application, or how we are forgiven or not forgiven, is also significant because where we go in our relationships and how we relate to one another is a choice. Ideally, in relationships we make those choices together, with clarity and understanding. When it comes to forgiveness, having clarity and understanding means facing that wounding place of rupture, that place of distance, and that place of forgiveness, and knowing that it exists.

Forgiveness, if it is true, is an honest acknowledgement of what happened, and that it isn’t forgotten, but that it is willingly moved away from, by both parties. With this, forgiveness is truer when the act isn’t forgotten, but is remembered, albeit kindly. Whether forgiveness is given, or if it is not, there is only moving on from a place that exists, and from a place that cannot be unknown.

Thank you again for those questions. They are a great reminder for me to look at those subtle movements in forgiveness and how it shows us where we stand in relation to another. I think exploring forgiveness and discovering what you want to do when you are hurt or have hurt another, and the choices you can make, is a great place to be, on either side of that divide.


(Originally written December 5, 2012)

About the Author


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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn being forgiven

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