Forgiving a Debt

Forgiveness is one of those things that I'm always pondering and always reflecting on in some way. I'm not great at it, but I like to think that I'm striving for excellent. And part of that has been truly understanding what forgiveness is, what it looks like, feels like, sounds like; what it produces.

And as I've said time and time again, my life is a series of motifs. So when there's something I need to handle, whatever is at the root of it will pop up again and again until I handle it. It's true.

I think forgiveness will always pop up and stick me because of the forgiveness I need to give my father. I'm not there yet on this journey but every time I work through the forgiveness of one person, I get closer.

Tonight I read a New York Times article, "Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?" which tells the story of a murder victim's parents who seek to forgive her murderer who also happens to be her boyfriend.

I was struck pretty early on by the mother's explanation for why they had to forgive.
I wanted to be able to give him the same message [of forgiveness]. Conor [the murderer] owed us a debt he could never repay. And releasing him from that debt would release us from expecting that anything in this world could satisfy us.
I struggle with words like "I'm sorry" and "I apologize" because I often mistrust the intent. I feel that many people don't take those things seriously and I've frequently felt that ultimately they're just words.

And when I've been the person who needed to apologize, I've been keenly aware of how empty those words can be -- ironic when you consider how much you need them to convey. It's all about this debt at the end of it. A usually impossible to repay debt. Sometimes a debt that you can lessen, but it's not often that we can truly repay it, truly restore what we took or ruined when we hurt another person.

But the way she frames choosing to forgive is so amazing to me. She doesn't really say anything new. Anyone who preaches the value of forgiveness will talk about how you do it for yourself and not the other person. How it's about releasing the hold, and all of that. But she talks about it in terms of the expectations. How holding a grudge only causes you to expect something you will never receive. Failing to forgive only hurts you in the long run.

When I think about some recent events in my life and ponder whether or not I've truly forgiven people (while choosing not to forget, because I don't want to end up in that situation again) I think I'll consider whether or not I'm expecting anything. You've forgiven when you're done expecting the other person to repay any debts. Deep.

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