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Taking the road less traveled

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. (Robert Frost)
Many of us have grown up with a sense that forgiveness is a good thing, something we should probably do. But considerably less of us have a good sense of what that actually means. Do we simply “forgive and forget”? This might be appropriate if a friend is 10 minutes late for lunch but what if our spouse has betrayed us? What if a colleague has damaged our reputation at work? What if someone rapes or kills our child? What, if any, are limits of forgiveness?
These and other questions quickly reveal how difficult forgiveness actually is.
Forgiveness is not easy and it is not quick. And it is most certainly not the same as forgetting a wrongdoing (how does one forget the hurt?). Instead, forgiveness is a deliberate action in which we give up our right for revenge and move toward a form of renewed relationship. While this definition is a move in the right direction, complexity remains. How do we forgive someone who denies their wrongdoing? How do we forgive someone who is no longer (or we no longer want) in our lives? How do we forgive generational harms? These questions need both time and space to be explored. Which is one of the underlying aims of the forgiveness training.

The Forgiveness Training (Outline)

Multiple modules can be grouped together to address the needs of your group:

math-is-hardReasons to Forgive. Why should we forgive? This module will identify a number of psychological benefits attached to forgiveness, both individually and corporately. We will also explore the cost of forgiving and consider if there are limits: Are some people or actions impossible to forgive? An additional module that explores concepts such as grace, atonement (from a Christian perspective), justice, and human responsibility is also available.

How to Forgive. How do we forgive? What does this actually look like in practice? This module will introduce tangible “steps” that place us on the road toward forgiveness.

Apology. Why do some apologies fail? Why are some apologies never given? And who should apologize for collective wrongdoing? This module examines what constitutes a good apology (vis-à-vis ineffective apologies), who can or should apologize, and why apologies are so difficult.

Self-forgiveness. How do we forgive ourselves? How do we deal with guilt and regret? This module offers suggestions and provides space to reflect on the inner journey.

Memory. How do we remember the past? Why do we remember it? We can either remember in ways that leave us broken or we can remember in ways that lead toward healing. What sets these apart? This module explores how we can deal with the memories of past hurt and wrongdoing.

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Several years ago I was invited with a group of Indonesian colleagues to a town in Sulawesi. This town had experienced a fair amount of violence, resulting in property damage, injury and in some cases, death. While the groups had separated along religious lines, it was unclear to me that this was in fact a religiously motivated conflict. Nonetheless, now that the violence had subsided, residents had the challenge of learning to live together again. How do you buy fish from a person who burned down your house? How do you interact with people from “the other side”? While it had been relatively easy to retaliate, the aftermath was not so easy.
The training we were asked to lead brought together community leaders from all sides for five days. We talked about many things, including forgiveness. While they could not change the past, they did have the possibility of altering the future. How could these people journey toward forgiveness? How would they remember the past? How would they relocate their relationships?
There are no easy steps in forgiving the other. Indeed it can appear to be a foolish (or even inappropriate) journey. But consider the cost of not forgiving. This is not an easy journey either. The hope of forgiveness is that it imagines a better future. One that is no longer shackled to the past.
You are invited to imagine.

Additional Thoughts

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