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Why I Had To Redefine Forgiveness

Growing up it was understood that when someone said they were sorry, we were to say "I forgive you." It was practically required. I grew up in a religious home where the word forgiveness was very loaded. It was my understanding that since God forgave us, we were to forgive others. It was gracious and it was the "right thing to do". Unfortunately, of no fault of my well meaning parents, I was born a Libra and I am, by nature a peace keeper. My mantra could very well be, "Why can't we all just get along?" Because of my inherent desire to please, this idea of forgiveness manifested itself in, what I've come to understand, was a very toxic way.

The definition of forgive can be confusing:


-stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.

-cancel (a debt).

-used in polite expressions as a request to excuse or regard indulgently one's foibles, ignorance, or impoliteness.

My understanding and application of forgiveness followed the last interpretation. I believed that when you forgave someone you excused them. That it was the "right thing to do". Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." but for me, forgiveness was my weakness. Throughout my life I had "forgiven" or "excused" hurtful things instead of standing up for myself and forcing myself to deal with and work through painful or confrontational things. Instead, I just "forgave". I had done this so much that it's caused me to retreat from anything that might cause me pain. I would rather not risk the pain for the sheer fact that then I would have to, not only the burden of healing from the pain, but the burden of finding a way to "excuse" what caused me that pain. Turns out that I my understand of forgiveness was wrong and living a life with a wall up to anything that might end up causing pain is not healthy.

Thankfully, I've come to a place in my life where I've been able to redefine forgiveness. For me now, forgiveness means accepting that the past will never change and being grateful for what it taught me or where it is leading me. It absolutely doesn't mean that I excuse the actions or the words that caused me pain, but I do understand that just as those action or words do not define me, they also don't define the perpetrator. My forgiveness doesn't excuse them from any consequences, even though in some cases, I wish it would. My forgiveness is simply me accepting that the past cannot be altered and deciding to let the past be a stepping stone instead of a burden.

Redefining forgiveness has not only allowed me to truly forgive, but it has allowed me to have a new sense of gratitude for my past and to give it grace. I can't change it. I don't have to understand it. I can't change my choices. I can't change others choices, but I can choose to be gracious to myself and to others because the past chapters of my life have been written in permanent ink, but how I choose to let that past determine the future chapters is entirely up to me.


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