Thursday 16 August 2012

The Heavy Baggage of Forgiveness

Years ago some friends and I were discussing forgiveness and trust. One friend felt that it was important to always forgive others, or otherwise you couldn't say you were a truly 'good person' in a spiritual/religious sense. She felt, very strongly, that complete forgiveness and trust were the only way. Another friend summed up the trust issue perfectly, but I was still left struggling to explain why I felt forgiveness wasn't that necessary. The trust thing? Our other friend said, "Sure, I trust - I trust the laws of Nature. A snake will be a snake and a lamb will be a lamb." Trust isn't being blind to the truth - it's accepting it. Some people are born to be snakes, but forgiveness... how to explain that? I couldn't find the words to fit my feelings. Then last month I saw something on a Facebook page (of all places!) that finally made it all "click" for me. It said...

"If you can't forgive another, than forgive yourself for being only human... and move on." 

That is exactly what I'd felt, but had no words to explain all those years ago! I believe that forgiveness can sometimes be too heavy to carry.

We talk about bad memories as "heavy baggage"- things we carry along with us through life. All those memories of times when life/people hurt us, when our trust or hearts were broken or damaged... anger, sorrow... it's like they become these memory books that we pack into a bag in our hearts.
So you drag this bag of heavy books through life and every now and then you'll probably stop a while, open the bag and take out a book to read it again. Sometimes just be rereading a book it grow lighter and fade away, but here's my big issue with some ideas about what forgiveness means. Some people say that the only way you can ever remove all those books from your bag is to forgive anyone who played the "bad guy" role in those life stories.

It is true that when you read a baggage story, and truly forgive the person in it, the book dissolves into stardust and floats away.... but this doesn't happen for every book. Every book is different, every person's bag is different.

There will also be those clear objective moments when you take out an old baggage book, reread it and finally understand it. You'll suddenly see how it helped you by making you be stronger and wiser, and you'll let it go. Then it floats away to become a part of your Life Story book - the big bright book God holds in His/Her heart of who YOU truly are.

But in every bag there will be books written about people and/or events that just make you feel so BAD when you try to reread them that you can't finish reading. They might hold events that were tragic or terrible; they might fill you with rage, despair or even fear.

If you are a person brought up to believe forgiveness is vital then you take that book you can't bear to reread and you shove it into a reminder box you think is called MUST READ, but in actual fact this box is really called GUILT. It's big, heavy and it serves no use except to make your bag even heavier to drag. Now, each time you open the bag to take out a book you look at this MUST READ box and, if you can't bear to open it, you add a new layer of dense suffocating GUILT to the surface... so it just gets bigger and heavier and harder to drag. I truly believe that in some cases the whole forgiveness thing traps us into carrying more weight. It also misleads us into thinking we can never get rid of those books we cannot bear to reread and forgive. 

Of course, we all know those people who forgive with such ease and that can make us feel even more heavy leaden guilt that they get it right when we can't. Truth is it's all unique for every person. You get amazing people who can go through war, abuse, rape, murder of their loved ones and still genuinely say, "I forgive", but the fact that not everyone can be that way should never become a burden. No-one should ever drag a heavy bag of painful or frightening memories through their life because they can't bear to remember them, reread them... forgive them.

Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves for being human. Then, you open the bag and you discover that the MUST READ GUILT box has melted away. You take out the book you can't forgive, can't bear to read... and it suddenly feels lighter in your hands. It doesn't see important anymore - not important to read it, not important to keep on carrying it. You put it down and a breeze catches the pages...

The pages turn into feathers, then the feathers form into wings and... 

it's gone.

Close the bag and travel on.


  1. I've been struggling with the concept of forgiveness recently. How do you forgive someone who, you feel, might hurt you again?

    Or people who, over and over, continue to be malicious?

    I honestly feel that I should avoid truly bad people.

    I'll have to sit quietly and think about it some more.

  2. Great post, Michelle! And I do like that quote!

  3. So true! (and you made me cry!)

  4. J~J
    Glad you enjoyed it. A dear friend sharing their story inspired me to write it. :-)

    check your email

    Hi Betty
    thank you and yep - great quote!


  5. The process of forgiveness cannot be completed without the intention of doing the best thing for all involved. The protection of self must be considered, as no one else has this responsibilty. Within that parameter forgiveness is an essential and often difficult endeavor. You have come to an understanding of this process in its highest form. The rest requires the love of the ALL and your willingness to proceed.
    Well done, my friend!

  6. This is a tough topic, but there is one of the most recent quotes I found on forgiveness that I REALLY LOVE. Downloaded a free ebook on Kindle for PC entitled "Secondhand Jesus" by Glenn Packiam.

    On page 141, the writer wrote:

    "There is no such thing as simply forgiving, even at the human level. THERE IS ALWAYS A COST.

    When someone wrongs you, something is taken from you, a piece of you is gone. Sometimes it's even physical; more often it's something intangible, like your innocence, your childhood, your respect, your marriage. Fill in the blanks.

    If you've been wronged, you are missing something you once had or should have had."

    And in terms of forgiving ourselves, I find that it's such a long journey, but the more we "practise" it, the better we become he he...

  7. Amel

    That's a wonderful quote. So very true.

    Thank you xx



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