Spiritual Practices: Forgiveness

The Basic Practice

There are three kinds of forgiveness, all interrelated. There is self-forgiveness, which enables us to release our guilt and perfectionism. There is the forgiveness we extend to others and receive from them, intimates and enemies alike. And there is the forgiveness of God that assures us of our worth and strengthens us for this practice.

All the spiritual traditions raise up the value of forgiveness, but many people still find it to be a nearly impossible ideal. Just start somewhere. Look truthfully at one hurt you have not been able to forgive. Identify any associated feelings you might have, such as anger, denial, guilt, shame, or embarrassment. Imagine what it would be like to live without feeling this offense. Then let it go.

Other steps may be necessary for healing — a confession of your contribution to the conflict, making amends, changing behavior, a commitment to the community — but giving up your claims for, and sometimes against, yourself is where you have to begin.


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Why This Practice May Be For You

We all know the obvious symptoms that could be relieved by forgiveness — feeling so wounded that we want revenge, constant brooding over a long list of petty grievances, feeling so guilty we don’t know how to approach someone we have offended, worry that the hurt could happen again. Bitterness and stubbornness can also be signs that forgiveness is called for, especially when these attitudes are associated with a need to be recognized as the one who is right.

In contrast to these limiting behaviors, which usually erect walls between ourselves and others, forgiveness is freeing. It means that we can move out of our previous position and move on with our lives. Best of all, it enables us to be reconciled with our neighbors and with God so that once again we feel part of the greater community of the spiritual life.