“To err is human, to forgive divine” -Alexander Pope from An Essay on Criticism.
Most are familiar with that quote. It means: All people commit sins and make mistakes. God forgives them, and people are acting in a godlike (divine) way when they forgive.
There is a huge emphasis in American culture for people to go around forgiving each other. We see our television and film characters going through drama and then in pop-psychological ways they more often then not forgive each other as the music swells.
Well up until a month or so ago, I thought that was the thing to do as well. But I’m here today to share with you something I learned in this group therapy course I’m participating in. And when I say deep I mean take a visit to the Grand Canyon and we can discuss deepness.
I learned that you do not have to forgive everything.
If someone has done something, or done something to you that in your book is unforgivable, then you don’t jolly well have to forgive them.
What do have to do, is get a handle on the situation, understand it for what it is – ie get the REALITY of it buckled down, and deal with the real situation. And dealing may mean you have to walk away, or reduce interaction, or get help in deciding how to manage the situation. Or any other number of things.
But you don’t have to forgive.
It may sound like blasphemy, but remember the quote: when we forgive we are taking on godlike qualities. Yet we are mortal human beings, and well asking someone to go all divine for you, or someone asking you to do it… well, just, NO.
My learning this amazing piece of information came about in discussion with a woman who is going through a bitter custody battle over her grandchildren. She said something like “I can’t forgive so and so for putting his children through this”. Our instructor said “Well, you don’t have to forgive” and it was a record scratch moment while we all sat there frozen with our mouths open.
I guess I wasn’t the only one who was hearing that for the first time too. It takes awhile to wrap your head around it, but it does begin to make a lot of sense. This woman will have to deal with the realities of the situation. The courts and the decisions they make. She may get partial visitation, she may get full or none. She may have to deal with the parent in question who is not so good for the kids. She may have really big decisions to make.
But she does not have to forgive the instigator of this mess for embroiling the kids in a traumatic, messy situation.
On those TV shows, it always seems like the people won’t be able to move on and deal with the situation unless forgiveness is handed out.
Well. That isn’t true. Remember that.
Don’t be the one running around asking everyone to forgive you for stuff. And don’t be the one rendering forgiveness on stuff that you find unforgivable.
Sure, there are things you can forgive, and if they sit ok with you to forgive, go on ahead. But usually the stuff we are told by society and our culture to forgive or ask forgiveness for are These Huge Things: and that needs to stop.
Pray and get forgiveness from someone who is actually divine and part of their skillset is forgiving mortals. Stop expecting me to pinch hit for the Divine. Because I am human, and I can only take so much, and even if you do expect forgiveness, don’t come over here looking for it.
I had always, always balked at this very thing. If you’ve undergone any kind of therapy, the subject of forgiveness always comes up. You got Oprah and everybody talking forgive, forgive, forgive. You got that saint-like woman who survived Dr. Mengele – able to forgive him for what he did to her and her twin sister. So who am I to not be able or want to forgive?
Turns out I am ok, and I am awesome, and I don’t need to forgive.
I tell you, a huge weight dropped off my soul when I finally understood this. Really understood it.
I can now move forward and get down to the brass tacks, the reality of the situations I’m dealing with, understand them and finally be able to handle them and/or manage them.
Because, truth be told, for decades, I had been fake-forgiving. Because I had been told over and over again that was the thing I needed to do in order to move on towards a healthier life. And even though I was not feeling it, I gave lip service to it, because I wanted to do the right thing, to heal and to move on. However:
Some stuff you just can’t forgive.
And I think in the heart of my hearts I knew that. Now instead of holding onto the damage that fake-forgiving has been causing me, I can set that whole thing aside and deal with the reality and really be able to move on.
The freedom this has brought me is indescribable.