• Learning to forgive is so very important ... • ... not just for you
and your sake but for everyone else's sake, too • So this page is dedicated
to showing concrete examples of forgiveness ... • ... and the importance of
Over time I have received some emails from a lady I know who (with her husband)
has spent years travelling the world and doing important relief work in many
places, Africa first and foremost.
This relief worker as well as another lady I know who wrote me
a long letter describing how she 'went through her own
personal hell and back', have both kindly granted me
permission to publish parts of what they sent to me.
will use this font to show you which parts are taken directly
from the emails and the I received from the two women.
Mostly I am going to let the examples speak for themselves,
but I might just slip in a brief comment or two here and
there. Okay, here we go ...
Examples of Forgiveness, Quote no. 1 ...
... about a tiny but personally significant episode in the lady
relief worker's life:
remember when I came home from a long day of work at the
village dispensary in our rural community in West Africa. It
was terribly hot. I was filthy and tired, and worn down by the
diseases and poverty that so easily killed. I was angry and
resentful, full of old grief, and I directed most of this
towards my husband.
I laid down on the bed weeping,
and hung my dirty feet off the side. Dust and dirt was deeply
embedded in my toenails and sore, cracked heels.
husband wordlessly came into the room with a bucket of water,
and gently bathed my feet, cleaning the dirt, massaging the
pain, and rubbing cream in the deep crevices.
of forgiveness restored me to myself, and I was gently humbled
in a life-giving way.
Forgiveness has the possibility
of bringing us profound healing and personal transformation.
Lewis Smedes wrote that forgiveness is the one truly creative
act of humans that mimics the creator God. When we forgive, we
set something entirely new into being.
Examples of Forgiveness, Quote no. 2 ...
... which contains some thoughts on forgiveness:
When I lived in Mali, West Africa, I
was struck by the deeply engrained concept of keeping short
accounts rather than holding long grudges.
At the end
of the Muslim year, neighbors and friends would come and
visit. There were many greetings, blessings, and gifts of kola
nuts, peanuts, and small parcels of meat. Always there was the
request for forgiveness.
"Yafa ne ma!" our friends
would say. Forgive me! We mechanically replied, "N' yafara i
ma." I forgive you. Often the forgiver would add, "Ala be hake
yafa an ma," God forgives our offenses.
I always felt
awkward during this ritual. It seemed simplistic. I was
painfully aware of grudges nourished across the years - both
my own, and those of others. This little proclamation of
forgiveness didn't mean anything. Or did it?
it did its part in forming the mindset of the people who used
it, and certainly it did seem like the ritual forgiveness
shortened the time grudges were held. At least in terms of
what was generally expected. You were expected to forgive, so
to some extent some people actually did.
is something for us in the West to learn here?
forgiveness is both a fact and a process. It is a practice, a
discipline, a daily habit, and an art. It is a doctrine and a
characteristic. It is the hardest work of your life, the
greatest gift of your life, and that which is most capable of
bringing you personal transformation.
I was blessed to be part of a trauma healing
team that went into Rwanda early post-genocide.
airport was empty. Bullet holes marred the glass enclosed gorilla
exhibits. The streets were eerily quiet: no sound of birds singing
or dogs barking. No children playing. Only the occasional military
truck with young men casually draped with AK-47s.
of a thousand hills" had not yet started to recover. The ground of
mass graves bore bits of cloth that blew in the breezes of unknown
As we conducted workshops, one man asked to speak
to me individually. His cry still echoes in my mind. "How can I
forgive when I saw 29 of my family members massacred?"
unthinkable situations like that forgiveness seems impossible. It is
too costly, too unfair. We are too hurt and damaged by the offense
to engage in it.
And yet, both in Rwanda and all around the
world there are extraordinary examples from adults abused as
children, victims of violent crimes, and genocide survivors.
Forgiveness has brought freedom, hope, and joy. Forgiveness can be
learned, and we have the record of many masters to teach us.
Our greatest barriers to wholeness are forgiving ourselves and
forgiving others. So forgiving is both intrapersonal and
interpersonal, but it goes far beyond you and me. It is a crucial
aspect of reconciliation between communities, people groups, and
governments. It is an essential component of ongoing peace building.
Forgiveness is the process of setting free from guilt and
penalty, and it is the greatest act of love and healing.
Forgiveness is the force of life that we allow to flow no matter
what obstacles threaten to block the channel. It is the powerful and
creative act of freedom. It is the joy of humility, surrender, and
Examples of Forgiveness, Quote no. 4
And, to cap off all these examples of forgiveness, I would
like to present you with an example that's more close to home,
so to speak.
This one is from a letter someone I know wrote me
after having dealt with the breakdown of pretty much
everything in her life - including a number of old dreams and
So, this example, which is the longest one of all, is
both about self forgiveness and about forgiving others.
I used to believe in
the fairy tale of a happy married couple with a happy set of
kids in a happy house surrounded by a white picket fence
behind which would frolic a happy dog. I don't actually know
where I got that mental image from, but it was there just the
The funny thing is, I got exactly what I wanted -
on the surface. But the reality of that dream life was a lot
different from what I had expected. First and foremost in
terms of the ubiquitous happiness I expected to be present all
the time. Well, it wasn't.
Sure, there were moments of
joy and even happiness, but ubiquitous they were not. Not for
me, not for my spouse, not for our kid (we only had one), and
not even for the dog, Sally. All things considered Sally was
probably the happiest one of us.
The first couple of
months were great.
Then the problems started piling up.
Our mortgage was a real pain, and we had to work way too hard
to pay it off. The birth of our child, Wendy, three months
after we moved in was wonderful beyond words, but that, too,
wore off real quick as long lasting bout of colic wore all
three of us down to almost nothing.
It was about that
time our sex life died a quiet death; and not too long after
that I accidentally discovered that my husband was having an
affair with one of his co-workers.
I wanted revenge for
that, so I started sleeping with other men, too, primarily
random men I picked up in bars and such, but also a guy that I
really liked. All that sleeping around, however, turned out to
be a really bad idea, because it only made me feel more lonely
and let down ... and I caught not one but two venereal
diseases ... and last but not least the guy I really liked
ended up getting madly jealous, and hurting both my husband
Soon after that the worldwide financial crises
hit and both my husband and I lost our jobs, and then we
divorced in what was very far from being an amiable and
friendly way. It was, however, very expensive in legal fees.
Since I was very sick and bone tired at the time, I ended
up ceding custody of our child to my husband. The house with
the white picket fence ended up in a foreclosure auction - and
got sold for less a lot less than what we had paid for it,
leaving both of us indebted. I got to keep our dog, Sally,
though. Small blessings!
So, in less than two years my
old dream had been transformed into a nightmare, and I had
lost everything: my child, my husband, my house, my job, my
money, my health and my dreams.
For the longest time I
hated everyone and everything, including myself ... I really,
really hated! I cried and cursed and grieved and got depressed
and was this close to killing myself. But I didn't, instead I
gave up. In a good way.
That's right, I hit rock bottom
and simply gave up on all the things I had been so very
attached to. I let them go, and good riddance, too. It
happened overnight for me. After crying myself to sleep for
god know which time, I simply woke up one morning and decided
to let everything go. Just like that! It was the best decision
of my life.
In that the days that followed, I
consciously worked my way through my entire life; every little
bit of it, and forgave everyone and everything for everything
- even myself. And in that process of forgiving, I also
realized some very, very important things:
• I lost
custody of my child (gave it up), but the silver lining is
that the love is still there, stronger than ever, and my
ex-husband is actually glad that I can take care of Wendy a
lot of the time - just about half the time, in fact.
My husband and I divorced, but the silver lining is that
without the many kinds of crazy pressure on us - and after my
'period of grace' as I call it as well as after my ex-husband
got some serious therapy - we get along just great again.
We're actually close friends, and maybe, just maybe that what
we should always have been.
• That dream about all the
marital happiness inside the white picket fence is a total
Marriage is a ridiculous institution that only
benefits the divorce lawyers, and the cost of the house had us
shackled to the bank from day one.
When we both lost
our jobs, there was no way in hell we could keep the house,
and since the tide of the times (thanks to some exceedingly
greedy and unscrupulous American bankers and a totally wimpy
government) had turned into a depression we couldn't sell it
Total sham, but I had been naive enough to
believe in it - to expect it. Thank god I am not that naive
anymore! The silver lining is that I am no longer shackled to
anything, not to a husband, not to a job, not to a house with
a mortgage and not to a set of outdated beliefs and dreams.
I feel free in a way I have never felt before, and I love
every second of it.
• I don't think my health has ever
been worse than it was at the time of our divorce, but today I
am both healthy and fit. No sign of the chronic fatigue or any
of the diseases. My doctor has given me a clean bill of
health. How did that happen? I'm not sure, really, but it
seems to have something to do with my period of grace, because
that was the turning point for my health, too, and I got
better real fast.
• I have learned a thing or two about
work and money. Neither one is as important as I used to
think, but money is a lot less important. And strangely, the
less importance I attach to money, the easier it seems to come
my way. So today I still live pretty cheaply, but I also have
more money than ever before.
As for work, I now only do
things I either like or love. FYI, I am now self employed and
I love it; and Sally (my dog) and I live in a trailer even
though I don't have to, anymore, but I actually like it.
Because of Wendy I might not stay in a trailer forever, but
you can be sure that I won't opt for a mortgage again ...
ever. Life is too short to be at the mercy of reckless and
unscrupulous money men.
• Hitting rock bottom and
giving up in a good way (letting go of my attachments and
forgiving everyone, starting with myself), was both the worst
and certainly the best thing that ever happened to me. The
freedom, happiness and empowerment I feel is worth everything
I went through. Yes,
there we are ... this ends the examples of forgiveness that I wanted
to present to you. If they can't teach us something about learning
to forgive, I don't know what can. The importance of forgiveness and
letting go, the sheer power of forgiveness can hardly be
In case you're more interested in other,
different angles on forgiveness, I would like to direct your
attention to the pages:
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