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Forgiveness - Let yourself off the hook


In the course of my work with various audiences, I have found personal narrative to be a powerful means to communicate. My current role is in a Christian college, where it can be effective to draw on that shared context to link Gospel values to illustrations. In the following post on forgiveness I do both - and share a bit more personally than usual for a 'blog' or 'article' format... for which I hope you'll - ahem - forgive me, if it's not your cup of tea!...

There’s something insanely difficult about the call of the Gospel to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44), but it’s not surprising to me that positive psychology has picked up on the same tenet – forgiveness has huge benefits. I know my initial response to the call to pray for those who hurt you is “Why should I? I haven’t done anything wrong here!”, but I think it’s worth the effort. I’d like to illustrate with an example from my life.

As some of you know, my father was brain injured in an attack on him by strangers – strangers who were never ‘brought to justice’. At age 13, I went from having a father in my life to having a man who did not recognise me, could no longer walk, and was not quite sane, a state he lived in until he died when I was twenty-six. When I was twenty I was confronted by the call to forgive. In the end I chose to do it mostly to be faithful to where I was at in my spiritual journey. If beforehand I was a very angry, (and burdened) teenager and young man, afterwards I was a young man who was just a bit more free, not as heavily burdened, and with a developing passion to be helpful to others. I stopped wanting ‘justice’ for those strangers, and started feeling compassion for them. By letting go of them, I let myself off the hook. That’s what positive psychology also tells us about forgiveness – it is as much for us as it is them (see this Science of Happiness YouTube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o9_TlZyB_Y).

For many of you this is well and truly ‘preaching to the converted’ – many of you live daily with the choice of forgiving much more difficult circumstances than the one that Nahum of twenty years ago faced. And I know from my counselling role of numerous brave students over the years who have also walked much more challenging paths. For those of you who haven’t had this forgiveness principle come up yet though: where in your life could the act of forgiving serve to make you a more free and strong person?

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