Introduction to Forgiveness
Ron Toews introduces the topic forgiveness, commenting on why we need to talk about it, what happens when we choose not to forgive, and when we do choose to forgive. The themes are "Justice" (what I want for others when I am wronged) and "Mercy" (what I want from others when I do them wrong. The past cannot be changed, but our present and future are set in place by our choices. Forgiveness is not about being nice; it is about not letting the past control our present and future.
2. Sources of Material
3. The Process of Forgiveness Cannot be Reduced to Three Easy Steps
4. What Do You Want to Take Away from this Seminar?
5. Forgiveness Themes
6. The Broad Context of Life
b. Your future
c. Your past
d. Chinese proverb
7. Not Talking about Adding to Your Niceness
Lecture 1: Introduction
I want to talk to you about forgiveness and discuss also initially why I want to talk to you about it. A part of me wishes that this whole topic of forgiveness is irrelevant and that we would not even need to discuss it. Why is life like this; that we have to even consider this sort of topic? There are experiences that really invite forgiveness. I wish for my friends and for my wife and I and adult children and for our grandchildren that would not have to be thinking about forgiveness on occasions. I would like life to be perfect so to speak. One of the things that I know and this isn’t a big surprise for you to know that life is not perfect. That is not how it works. We revisited that again recently in our family where our four-year-old granddaughter claimed a banister on a stairway and broke her arm. This is another reminder that she isn’t perfect and life has its bumps and bruises and that is part of why forgiveness becomes an issue. On the other hand, I am pleased to talk to you about forgiveness because that is part of life and that is part of what has been made available to us; to be able to handle some of those things in life. If we choose not to forgive which I will not in any way demand that of you. That is not how I think about it and not how I think about my interaction with you on this topic. The way I think about forgiveness, peace with you is that I want to talk with you on how I think forgiveness works, how God is involved in our lives and in forgiveness and help you to understand what kind of choices do we have. What happens when we don’t forgive? I am not saying that you should forgive. If you or I make the choice not to forgive, what does that look like? One of the things, when we choose not to forgive, is that we substantially reduce the opportunities in our lives; we reduce what is available for us. When we choose not to do that, at least in my observation, people’s lives become fairly predictable, fairly common and similar as they move forward. If we choose to forgive, an incredibly hard thing to do and participate in; it opens an opportunity, we set direction and create possibilities in terms of how we can live and possibilities in terms of what our lives can look like.
So, this is why I want to talk to you about forgiveness. So what is my first memory of something that needs forgiving? What came to mind; when I was about twelve years of age, my father was injured in an industrial accident. By career my father was a farmer, he was an immigrant with no formal education in North America, very little in the war-torn country which he came from. He came to Canada where I am from and he became a farmer. He got injured working away from the farm for an employer, moving a large broken window pane. So if you can think of a large plate glass window which was already cracked. In the process of removing the window, the broken part fell off and fell on my father and cut his wrist very badly. He received medical care for it but couldn’t work again from that point forward at the level of work he had done before. There was no recompense, no compensation and he had to sell the farm and our lives weren’t the same after that. I don’t remember thinking at that point as a teenager how horrible this was. What I remember seeing was that my father was in a lot of pain at times when he tried to work. So our lives simply changed at that point. That was the first memory I had of something that forgiveness might be a candidate or part of the process.
2. Sources of Material
So, this is some of the early materials that I will use. Then there is material from Lewis Smeeds and then Dr. David Augsberger has been some of the initial material that I am familiar with that was popularized and come to be a part of the broader market and other materials have been built on over time. If you go to the internet or similar search engine and type in forgiveness or what is forgiveness, there are many websites that come up. People think about forgiveness; people from a faith perspective are thinking and writing about forgiveness. People from a non-faith perspective who don’t talk about God or faith; to them forgiveness is usually important. So material on this subject comes from a lot of different sources. An audio tape series from a lady, Lois Edmans, on forgiveness is something that I have been exposed to, and I think this tends to connect with the key themes as well. And then a significant source from my perspective is the interaction with peers who are interested in helping folks work through things in their lives. I spent a lot of time talking with people and thinking about forgiveness and interacting with them around the theme of forgiveness. I think what happens to us in our lives often needs forgiveness to be added to it. To help people set direction is a significant piece for us.
3. Forgiveness is Not a Process
Another aspect that I want to comment on is when I talk to you about forgiveness; what you will not learn from our conversation here, it isn’t a process like step 1, 2, 3 etc. This is what you do; if you do this you will experience forgiveness. I don’t think it works that way. I think when forgiveness happens; part of the picture is that God does a miracle in our lives. I am talking about when God interacts in our lives in such a way that something happens inside of us as well as we participate along with that. We can sabotage forgiveness; I think there are things that we can do to facilitate forgiveness. So just like the broader themes in the Christian life, there are ways that we can participate with God; the Christian life isn’t a passive activity and at the same time God can intervene and when forgiveness happens, I think some of that intervention has gone in our lives. From a logical perspective, from a straight line cognitive point of saying let’s do this or that; forgiveness doesn’t make sense to me. I am interested in vengeance in a natural normal way when bad things happen. That is a natural response on my part. So to think about forgiveness in a linear sort of way, it just doesn’t make sense.
4. What do You Want from this Seminar
What I ask is that you not respond to me directly and to think about your own kind of experience or just simply what has brought you here today; what would you like to take away from this today? What has made you interested in this subject because forgiveness is a significant theme for us; we don’t have to live too long to come across experiences that would invite us to consider forgiveness. I sit with a lot of people perhaps as much as twenty or thirty hours a week; those who want to talk to me about their lives. In terms on how I position myself, I tend not to say to people that we need to talk about forgiveness today. When people are more ready for that, I begin to bring that up; people who would feel safe. But with people who don’t feel safe, they began to say that they have been thinking about forgiveness. Sometimes the word simply shows up in a conversation; it is not even a highlighted item; it just kind of shows up. That is part of what happens when we grow and move forward.
5. Forgiveness Themes
From Edmans materials, the word justice which I define as what I want, I want justice when I’m wrong. That is what I want to happen. Look what you didn’t do, where is the justice? I want that to happen. That is one theme in the regards to forgiveness.
The second theme is that of mercy. My definition for mercy is what I want from others when I wrong them. So, I do the wrong and I’m saying, where is the mercy? When I look at the Bible, I see the two themes, both justice and mercy; they are a significant part of the forgiveness side. What I often come across are people who are interested in balancing the two. Let’s have a little justice and let’s have little mercy. Let’s negotiate the justice and the mercy, let’s get a balance. In reading the Scripture, it is like it is flat out in both directions. There is justice and then there is mercy. Both are really significant themes and we tend to polarize between justice and mercy. My thoughts are, if your part of a church congregation or church board or in your own family or part of a close relationship, you could probably name the mercy people and the justice people. Both of these are really critical in working through forgiveness.
6. Broad Context of Life
a. Your Present
In a broader context in regards to how our life works, I want to talk in terms of tense and in terms of time. In terms of our presence; how did you get here today? How is it that you are here? You made a decision and wrote it in your calendar; you decided on whether it was yesterday or a month ago. You get your returns or rewards on the decisions that you make.
b. Your Future
If I said to you, how do get your future? You would probably pull out your daybook or your phone or your calendar. So you have made decisions and you follow through on those decisions. If you decide that you don’t want to do that in two weeks, you simply change it and you make a different decision. So in that sense, we create our future. Often you will hear things like, ‘I will see you next Wednesday, God willing.’ They allow in their intentional thinking and their speech to say, ‘Yes, I am making these plans and I’m responsible for what is happening.’ So, on the one hand, we plan our future, but there are things that can change it or we can change it. But there is some flexibility with that. Then we have our past and that is a different deal by itself. It is a different piece, the events are there; we can’t change them. They are just there. We see events being played out all the time. We watch Television or a video; you watch the evening sports and the play happens when the ball is thrown or kicked or hit. They adjust their actions from what they see in a replay. If I had done this or that it would have been different. We watch our life video in our minds as it relates to the past and painful events and that video goes through again and again and again and we can’t change it. That makes the past a really difficult place.
c. Your Past
There are also things that we celebrate and enjoy; those videos in our minds are a lot easier to play. But these other videos are things that we have said and done and when we run that video in our minds, our system actually thinks that we’ve been there. In running certain good videos, whatever my attention level was on a scale between 1 and 10, it may go down to a 4 or even a 3. My system thinks that I have been there and it simply winds down. When I play the video of painful stuff, the reverse happens, I have the experience again and when they are painful things, I want that video to change. But our past videos don’t change. Folks who think about their future, they actually visualize their future. They visualize what is going to happen. They think about it and the more you visualize it the more likely it will happen in terms of being able to success in some activity. When we visualize our past, that tape doesn’t change and it is powerful. And when we put those videos and negative events in charge of our lives, they are real and painful events and have had a huge impact on our lives. They have changed our lives in some way and we continue to play them. And at times, some of those events that we participated in to make happen; other times we are purely victims as they have happened to us. We couldn’t do anything different. But whatever the reason is, they keep playing. And with that, we start coming with different responses inside of us. If I play those videos and I often play them intentional, they are the last things that I want to play. I don’t actually want them to play, but they are playing anyway.
d. Chinese Proverb
One of the reasons that I’m talking to you about forgiveness; if we don’t find a way to handle it and we head in the revenge direction; we have this kind of landing. This isn’t a biblical statement but instead a Chinese proverb: he, who seeks revenge, should dig two graves. Putting our past in charge of our future and our present is a problem. I don’t know of many strategies or ways to handle those kinds of things other than to see as it is a significant part of the picture. One of the things that I anticipated when I was thinking about coming here; I anticipated that I would meet quite a few nice people and I don’t say that in a flattering way; that was simply one of my thoughts. I from time to time work in some environments where there are people who aren’t very nice. Nice or not being nice in regards to behavior, we think about our own behavior considering what is nice and what isn’t. When I think about our conversation here, I think about nice people. And when I talk to you about forgiveness, I am not talking to you about adding to your niceness.
7. Not Talking About Adding to Your Niceness
Forgiveness isn’t a nice thing to do for other people so that things kind of get a little better. That is not what forgiveness is. So it isn’t something to add to our list of nice things that we do. I am talking to you about forgiveness in a way that says that I’m not letting that event or those events or places where I was a victim and had no part in that. It was something that was done to me. And I am not letting that take me forward. Sometimes you have done that and sometimes you haven’t done that. And now you cannot continue to direct my life and say how that is going to be. Because I am not measured by that or that is not the measure of me. That is more than determination; it is one of the significant features of moving forward in a way. So that tape that runs is no longer in charge of my present and my future. That is why I want to talk to you about forgiveness. That seems to me to be a very important piece for us, given that our lives aren’t perfect, that things don’t always go well. We live in a fallen world. We are human; I am not perfect nor are others and difficult things just happen.
1. What have been your experiences of forgiveness not being granted, either by you or by someone else? How did your life become “common” and “narrow”?
2. What have been your experiences of forgiveness being granted, either by you or by someone else? How did your life create possibilities for how you can live and what your life can look like?
3. What is your earliest memory of something or someone that you needed to forgive?
4. Are there any resources you have found to help with the issue of forgiveness?
5. Do you have any experiences when you were disappointed that forgiveness wasn’t a simple and easy process as, “A, B, C?”
6. What do you want to take away form this seminar? What has brought you here?
7. Do you tend to polarize justice and mercy? Why? What have been the consequences? Are you a “justice” or a “mercy” person?
8. Ron makes a crucial point that we tend to play the video of our past over and over in our minds, but we can’t change the past. Does this resonate with you? How did you react when you heard him say that? Honestly, do you think that remembering the past can somehow change it? I suspect that to some degree we all do.
9. Can you think of times in recalling the past, that good things became better, and bad things became worst?
10. Do you know of any illustrations when replaying a difficult past actually had a negative effect on your body?
11. When have you allowed the past to be in charge of your present and future?
12. How is forgiveness not a “nice thing”?