MYRTLE BEACH—Forgiveness requires a decision by the forgiver that may need to be made over and over again. It is a gift that starts with a change of heart, and the willingness to see those who hurt others in the light of their humanity, and not from an individual’s need for retribution.
Celia Ryan is a licensed clinical social worker affiliated with Grief Works. She specializes in death, dying and forgiveness issues, and led workshops on this complex topic recently.
The four session series was called simply “Forgiveness.” In an interview with The Miscellany, Ryan said the participants explored the difficulties of forgiving, letting go of old hurts and emotional turmoil.
“Why is it hard to forgive, especially long after the event, or even when the offender has died? You have heard the words so many times, ‘forgive and forget,’ ‘let it go,’ ‘kiss and make up’ and so on, but somehow it’s really hard to do. Then you feel ashamed that you just can’t be generous and it seems so un-Christian. We pray daily, ‘forgive us as we forgive them’ and Jesus reminds us more than once that forgiveness is a prerequisite to full communion with Him.”
The principles of forgiveness as presented in the workshop are both practical and spiritual.
“There are several kinds of forgiveness: giving and receiving forgiveness from one another, forgiving ourselves, and accepting God’s forgiveness. These are often interrelated and we may need to forgive ourselves before we are able to forgive others. Sometimes it works the other way around,” she said.
The four steps are: name it, claim it, tame it, and do it. Each one allows the grace of God to work in the participant.
Forgiveness is a cognitive decision that is not always easy or painless. The forgiver can choose to give up the right to anger in order to have peace for themselves and those around them.
“Sometimes I am [told], ‘But if I forgive them, then they have won!’ On the contrary, harboring resentment hurts you, not them. Often the offender is not even aware of the hurt,” Ryan said.
Forgiveness requires courage and humility, because sometimes the person who feels wronged also bears some responsibility.
“While we are stuck in our righteous anger and resentment we are very polarized and unable to see what part, if any, we may have played into the offense. We will need to be willing to practice empathy — the ability to be in the other’s shoes — so that we need honesty to own up to the possibility that we too have been guilty of hurt.
“We change our actions — when we are ready to heal, we forgive,” she said.
The need for vengeance must be abandoned, but that does not excuse the need for justice.
Forgiveness does not condone or include a true injustice. It does, however, forgive the person.
Ryan explained, “Pope John Paul II visited Mehmet Ali Agca in his jail cell to offer forgiveness, but he did not say, ‘Get out of jail,’ because there are still consequences to behavior. Remember you are forgiving the person, not the act.
“We all have to forgive but nobody tells you how. Forgiveness frees the forgiver,” she said.