This month, our theme is forgiveness - a complex topic, for sure. Almost 20 years ago, I was getting some counseling, and my therapist suggested I listen to an audio book by Joan Borysenko. She is a medical doctor who researches the role of forgiveness on our physical and spiritual health. I’ll never forget what she said: forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. Otherwise, we live with resentment (not forgiving others) and/or regret (not forgiving ourselves). Eventually those two things eat away at our bodies.
Even after 20 years of grappling with this topic, I’m still challenged by it. Often, I beat myself up for something and wallow in shame. There are people in my life I know I should forgive, but it feels “cheap” to do so, and I hang onto resentment and blame. The more I explore forgiveness, the less sure I am that I have any answers. In fact, preaching,”you should forgive” can be a dangerous and hurtful thing.
One thing I do know is that I need religious community - a safe place to explore hard topics like this one.
The Ministry Groups (committees) at our church are doing just that when they meet every month. For those of you not part of a Ministry Group, here are readings about forgiveness we’re using to get us started:
From a UUA Tapestry of Faith Curriculum for Youth:
We can say important things about forgiveness by being clear what it is not. Forgiving another person does not necessarily mean you will reconcile a relationship, nor that a person has apologized or even asked to be forgiven. Forgiving another certainly does not mean that what that person did was okay, or that they are "getting away with it" (whatever "it" may be). And for most of us, advice "to forgive and forget" is often unrealistic.
From a sermon by Unitarian Universalist minister Patrick T. O’Neill:
A lot of us still think forgiveness is something we give to other people, to people who have wronged us and who may or may not be sorry for what they did to us. But that is only part of what forgiveness is, and it completely misses the true nature and power of forgiveness in our lives. Forgiveness is first and foremost a gift to ourselves. It is an act of self-love, self-care, self-respect, self-healing. It is the permission we give ourselves to let go of the pain of the past so that it does not define us for the future.
Questions for reflection:
The sermons this month will address some of these questions and how Unitarian Universalism speaks to them. And some of the answers will need to come from you, individually, based on your own background and experience. Either way, we gather in religious community to ponder tough topics like this. And let’s remember that sometimes the questions are more powerful than the answers. Rainer Maria Rilke said, “Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.”
Below are some resources for you and your family. If you have any to share, will you email me so I can share them with others? Be sure to check Facebook because I post things there almost daily.
As always, if you want a companion on your spiritual journey of forgiveness, call me so we can arrange a time to meet.
Blessings to you,
Children's Stories about Forgiveness
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Hawkes (Greenwillow Books, 1996). Lilly the mouse gets mad at her teacher and does a revengeful act. The teacher responds by lovingly demonstrating forgiveness.
Mr. Lincoln's Way by Patricia Polacco (Philomel Books, 2001). In this true story, a school principal named Mr. Lincoln helps a school bully who puts down other students and even the principal because of their race to appreciate that people of all races can live together by drawing on the boy's love for and knowledge of birds. A beautiful example of forgiveness and compassion.
My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco (Aladdin, 1998). A little girl tries to be better than her big brother out of jealousy and he ends up helping her out of kindness.
"What if Nobody Forgave? The Story of Grudgeville" by Barbara Marshman in What if Nobody Forgave and Other Stories of Principle by Colleen M. McDonald (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2003).
Under the Lemon Moon by Edith Hope Fine (Lee & Low Books, Inc., 2002). Set in the Mexican countryside with Spanish words sprinkled throughout, this tale tells of a girl whose lemons are all stolen by a poor man who then sells them in the market. Using her resourcefulness and help from La Anciana, the girl heals her tree and the wounds of the crime with generosity and forgiveness.
Star Boy by Paul Goble (Aladdin, 1991). In this adapted Blackfoot Indian legend a boy bears a scar on his face given to him after his mother disobeyed the Sun and fell to earth. The boy travels to the Sun to seek forgiveness and healing and brings to his people the ceremony of the Sun Dance to give thanks for the Creator's Blessings.
Non-fiction Books about Forgiveness, for Children
Forgiveness by Lucia Raatma (Bridgestone Books, 2002). This book, part of a character education series written for children, describes many aspects of forgiveness including; asking for forgiveness, forgiving others including friends, family and strangers, expressing hurt feelings, and forgiving oneself.
Kids' Random Acts of Kindness by Conari Press (RedWheel/Weiser, 1994). This book of stories, by and for kids, that demonstrate acts of caring and kindness includes writing by Dawna Markova and Rosalynn Carter.
Caring by Robin Doak (Raintree, 2002). This book written for children has examples of types of caring including a short chapter on forgiveness. For each type of caring the author provides real life examples of things that people have done, including forgiveness.
Non-fiction Books and Links about Forgiveness, for Adults
The Forgiveness Formula by Kathleen Griffin (Marlowe & Co., 2004)
Radical Forgiveness: A Bold Choice for a Peaceful Heart by Robin Casarjian (Bantam Books, 1992)
The Sacred Art of Forgiveness by Marcia Ford (Sky Light Paths Publishing, 2006). Adult.
Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Han (Parallax Press, 1997)
Brene Brown on shame and vulnerability: http://brenebrown.com/videos/
Blog post by Brene Brown on forgiveness: http://brenebrown.com/2008/08/28/2008828imperfect-parenting-forgiveness-html/
The Forgiveness Project: http://theforgivenessproject.com/
Movies about Forgiveness, for Adults