Forgiveness is important.

Not the “someone forgot to say happy birthday” or “got in a fender-bender in your car” kind of forgiveness. More so the “put a dent in someone’s soul” kind. For many people, the inability to feel complete is anchored in hurts that still fester, unresolved.

There is a perception that forgiveness is ceremonial, like a knighting. On television and in movies, when forgiveness is afoot, the wronged does the perpetrator a favor by forgiving him or her of their ills. In a Hallmark moment, the forgiver says to the forgivee, “I have given this a lot of thought and I am ready to forgive you.” The forgivee’s eyes well up and they warmly embrace. All is well in the world and both are liberated. There is a reconciliatory element to the Hollywood version of forgiveness, as if once granted, lives should be reconnected and happy endings commence.

I call bullshit on that version. I don’t think that forgiveness has to be a noble act that one gracefully bestows on another as much as it is a mental, spiritual, and emotional wiping clean of one’s own slate.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are two separate entities, and the latter isn’t necessary for the former. Back in the days of chalkboards in schools, one could see hints of what was written previously. There were chalk-dusty white ghosts of math problems and spelling words past. Forgiveness has similar ghosts—not clearly visible, but just enough to notice. They are hurts we won’t purge until we are justified. Everything that comes after is tainted by them. Sometimes reconciliation, justification, and getting square just aren’t coming. Like those school chalkboards, which a janitor would occasionally restore to magnificent blackish-greenish glory, an individual’s slate needs a good scrub. When a person is able to purge the ghosts, they are able to dismiss the burdens that they carry. They are free to move forward.

Holding out for forgiveness, while waiting for an explanation or an apology that isn’t coming, is like concrete swim fins. It won’t get you very far. Instead of waiting for things to fall into line so someone else can clean the blackboard for us, we have to do it ourselves. Hollywood-style forgiveness is possible, of course. I highly encourage it when it is. My caution is against relying on it in situations where it can’t or shouldn’t happen. Forgiveness applied to someone who is toxic personally shouldn’t be contingent on a reconciliation of the relationship

If a hiker stepped on a snake in the woods and was bitten, they might be able to forgive the snake. It was doing what snakes do. There’s no sense in going back to let the snake apologize, then hug it out. The snake isn’t capable, and it hasn’t thought about you since it saw you run screaming from the woods. The snake has moved on with its life. The same is true of many of the people who have hurt others. They’re over it. Life is an amazing adventure to experience—get on with it.


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