Monday, February 20, 2006

The stages of forgiveness

although I joined the blog a long time ago, this is my first post. So let me introduce
My name is Oksana, I was born in Ukraine in the city of Lviv, and about two and a half years
ago I came to the US to pursue my Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Missouri-
Columbia. I was baptized as a Greek Catholic, so I belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic
Church, which observes the Bysantine right and is in the full union with the Pope.
In this post I would like to write about something I don't have an answer for, a current
problem with which I am struggling now. What are the stages of forgiveness? How do we
forgive and what does it mean to forgive?
A human being faces many unjust, hurtful and dangerous situations as soon as he comes to
this world.
For example, a child reacts dramatically on a situation in which he was punished by adults
for the misbehavior of another child. Children have a sharp sense of justice, which is
naturally engrained in them. I don't mean to write about the psychology of a child here, I
am rather interested in the resoponce of a fairly mature human being to all the situations
in his past in which he was unfairly treated, insulted or abused.
It seems that the first stage of forgiveness would be an acknowlendement of the fact that I
was insulted/offended/abused and living through all the feelings of the past situation again
as well as gazing at the present feelings and the responce on the event. This is, probably,
what every good psychologist would tell you.
But what happens next? I think that at this point we need to make a personal choice. It
seems possible to let it go if somebody hurt us unwillingly and is not responsible for our
pain. We still have to go through the pain, for it still exists, but there does not seem to
be a deeper moral contradiction here. Well, it happens, one may say.
I know several people, including myself in the past, who confuse forgiving with justifying
the actions of another person, or, worse, taking the blame and the guilt on oneself. I think
that such an attitude is self-destructive and that even the person from which we still the
responsibility for his actions does not benefit from that. We are called to develop in full
mature adult persons, to flourish in the world for others, and to help others to do so as
well. Taking the guilt on yourself while you are not guilty damages you self-esteem and
blocks you from the further growth. I know at least one person who seems to spend a vast
amount of her energy searching for reasons why in such and such situation she was treated
not in the way every human being deserves. Since she works hard, she comes up with
explanations which are full of flows, but quite convincing to her. Other people around such
a person are deprived of the responsibility for their actions by her since she takes it all,
so they can not flourish and develop to their full extent.
So this is clear, forgiveness is not a privatisation of responsibility, blame and guilt. So
what is it?
Another helpful flow of thoughts here would be about the need of forgiveness. Is it really
needed? If you work through all your emotions and don't let a hurtful event to bump down
your self-esteem etc., why would you need forgiveness?
Well, I thought so too. More precisely, I did not think that forgiveness may be crucial and
necessary. I thought you can always "move on". But what is the state of heart with which you
move on? What kind of a person you remain if you do not forgive?
There is a "position of an innocent lamb" you may take in case somebody wounded you. You may
tend to think of yourself as of foultless/less sinful if you bear the wounds that other
people caused in you. If they were wrong and you were innocent, you may forget about the
situations in which you were in the position of your wrong-doers. I know some people,
including myself, who spend a lot of energy on circling in a cycle and thinking over and
over again about how somebody, or sometimes very many, may be almost everybody in their
society, is wrong about something, has done something unjust or sinful. This is tempting,
for it attracts the attention from your own faults and issues on which you need to work on.
So there is another thing that the forgiveness is not: bearing your pain and concentrating
on it combined with a prayer or a positive thinking about another person so that you don't
have to worry about you own imperfections.
There is so much unjustice around us that there is even no need in being hurt personally in
order to feel offended. In fact, one may be offended by a trend in philosophy/psychology, by
a prevailing point of view on one or another issue. Catholics may be hurt and offended by
the pursuits on the stem cell research and legalization of abortions as well by an unfair
attacks on the Catholic Church. We may not realize how much there is out there that needs
to be forgiven. The hatred, the anger and the desire of vengeance are like a cancer that
eats and destroys us from inside. A part of our life or even the whole totality of it may be
overturned in order to serve our anger and hatred.
This, of course, does not mean that we should not stand for our values. But an essential
part of a Christian 'stand' is forgiveness. The message of forgiveness is clear and
transparent through the whole Scriptures. It culminates in the words of Christ uttered by
him at the moment of death on the Cross: "Father, forgive them , for they don't know what
they do". Christ was without stain, he had no fault, and he forgave. Can a Christian do
anything else?
I think that in many issues the temptation is to accept the 'language' of our offenders in
our responce to an insult. To forgive means to pass the worldly and human frames and to make
a step beyond the natural responce of our feelings, even the most spiritual ones. A man can
not forgive unless by the grace of God.
This is a long post, so thank you if you made it this far. I think it is good for me to
write about this, it should help.
To be continued,


Blogger Frank Hogrebe said...


Thanks for your thoughts on this.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 5:03:00 PM  
Blogger Trent_Dougherty said...

Oksana, it is timeful that you wrote on this. Just this week I was in two situations where foregiveness came to the fore. In one, a group of Catholics spoke with such vitriol that I shuddered. In another, I was called to account for a past sin, for which I was not foregiven, nor was their much hope of being forgiven.

The ultimate sign of foregiveness is the end of enmity and the flowering (or at least seeding) of friendship. Since this clearly does not happen on Earth in all occasions for which it should, the eschatalogical aspect of atonement (literally at-one-ment, a Middle English translation of the Latin "reconciliatio").

Still, before Purgatory and Paradise we can still remain in a position of warm receptiveness, like the father of the Prodigal Son. Even if he does not come, we wait.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 7:35:00 PM  

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