Thursday, September 7, 2017

Forgiveness Is...

In my post last week, The Heart of Forgiveness Redux, I shared some thoughts about the topic of forgiveness. I also talked about forgiveness in my lesson this past Sunday at Unity Spiritual Center Denver. You may listen here.

What follows is primarily a recap of my lesson. I decided to share it here for those who prefer to read, rather than listen. Additionally, I share in this format because I wanted to provide the five-step process I outlined as one way to move toward forgiveness.
These steps and ideas are not uniquely mine. I am learning from some of the great teachers on forgiveness,
  • Colin Tipping, the creator of Radical Forgiveness ¹
  • Marshall Rosenberg PhD, the creator of Nonviolent Communication ²
  • Edwene Gaines, the author of Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity
  • Bishop T.D. Jakes, founder of The Potter’s House and author of the book, Let It Go 
  • Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, authors of The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.

The steps I offer are synthesized from these and other teachings. It is a topic I continue to explore. I am still learning.

I truly believe that forgiveness is essential to our healing, so I hope what follows is helpful, individually and collectively. Forgiveness may well be the key to our survival.

Why Forgiveness is Important

Bishop T.D. Jakes, in his book Let It Go, says “unforgiveness unchecked, becomes a cancer in our soul.”

Unforgiveness is a state of consciousness, which incorporates our thoughts and emotions, and includes resentment, blame, shame, criticism, condemnation or judgment of another or ourselves, at any level of intensity. I say at any level of intensity because many times we think that we only need to practice forgiveness for what we consider the major hurts. It is vitally important that we address the “minor” hurts as well.

When those states of unforgiveness remain unchecked or unexplored, they begin to eat away at us. If it continues to spread through healthy cells, cancer can eventually destroy the body. Likewise, unforgiveness, left unchecked, spreads and affects every area of our lives – physical, mental, emotional as well as other relationships – and drains our life energy.

Charles Holt, in his workshop on August 27, said “You are contagious.” Your mental and emotional states affect everyone around you. If they are not healthy, they infect everyone around you. You may not realize it, but you are contagious.

In Unity we teach that life is consciousness. When we do not address our unforgiveness by practicing forgiveness, it seeps out into our family relationships, our work relationships, our financial situation, and our physical bodies.

Unforgiveness can cause depression, anxiety, stress, and other emotional states of unrest. These emotional states affect our physical well-being. It is not just a New Thought concept. Scientific research has shown that the stress response triggers the release of specific hormones that disturb the normal homeostasis of the body. Unchecked, they often result in physical disease, premature aging and death.

The Power of Forgiveness

In the Sermon on the Mount, which encapsulates the essence of his teachings, the Master Teacher Jesus of Nazareth said,

 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” ³
Metaphysically, what Jesus is saying is that if we do not forgive, we will create a prison of our own making in our minds and hearts with our resentment, blame, criticism and the like. Further, that we will condemn ourselves to the consciousness of hell, from which we will not be set free until we have forgiven even the smallest perceived injustice.

What Forgiveness Is

In the Aramaic, the word that has been translated and shortened to “forgive” has a deeper and more expanded meaning. If we look at direct translations of the Lord’s Prayer from Aramaic to English, we can get a better understanding. The word actually connotes something more in alignment with the following: ⁴

Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us, as we release others from the entanglement of past mistakes.

Untangle the knots within so that we can mend our hearts' simple ties to each other.

Forgiveness in Aramaic, unlike in Greek, is not something that one does for another, but it is an internal process of allowing the acceptance of the Truth (the Father in The Lord’s Prayer) to free us from our attachments to thoughts, form, and the past.

States of unforgiveness are like knots that bind us to those who have harmed us. Those knots restrict the flow of Divine Love through us as us.

Forgiveness is a process of untying the knots and returning us to our natural state of being, an innate state of connection, sharing, and giving. Through forgiveness, we return to the state of mind and the heart where we are open channels and vessels of Unconditional Love.

In Charles’s workshop someone asked, “Can I forgive someone without loving them?” I want to be clear that I am not using the word ‘love’ to imply a feeling of intimacy, tenderness, closeness, affection or romance.

In using the word ‘love’ I am referring to a state of mind and heart in which we are willing and able to recognize and realize our shared humanity and our shared divinity; connect with others and ourselves; and express empathy and compassion. (For additional thoughts on this, please read last week’s post.)

This does not require us to like someone’s personality nor does it necessitate that we have any feelings of affection for them.

Some Things to Know About Forgiveness
  • It is a gift we give ourselves
  • It is a choice
  • It can be, but is not always easy
  • It is not weakness
  • It requires strength and courage
  • It can be, but is not always quick
  • It takes as long as it takes

How Do We Forgive? A Five-Step Process

How do we begin to untie the knots that bind us?

First, willingness. Forgiveness begins with willingness. We must have the desire to be free and the willingness to walk the path.

Second, tell what happened. Recount what happened, as if describing a photograph or replaying a video, with as much detail as possible, while avoiding adding any evaluations or meaning-making about what happened.

Third, name the feelings. Identify the feelings experienced when the event happened. Name the feelings that arise upon retelling what happened.

Fourth, feel the feelings. It is important to move through the feelings by letting them have their life. Notice the bodily sensations that arise. Get angry. Cry. Yell. Do whatever it takes to experience and express the emotions.

In The Book of Forgiving, Desmond Tutu shares the story of Father Lapsley, a black priest in South Africa who was the victim of a letter bomb during apartheid. Father Lapsley lost both hands and the sight in one eye from the blast. He was able to move through the process to forgiveness for those responsible. He said, “We can’t let go of feelings that we don’t own.”

Archbishop Tutu says, “We give voice to our hurts not to be victims or martyrs, but to find freedom from the resentment, anger, shame or self-loathing that can fester and build inside us when we do not touch our pain and learn to forgive.”

Fifth, ask our heart, “What do I value that I was deprived of?” NVC calls these “needs.” I like to think of them as aspects of our Divine Nature that are so much a part of who we truly are that when we are deprived of them through the actions of another or ourselves, we feel deeply. (For additional information on this, please read my post from last week.)

GET HELP! For many, the pain and suffering is so great that to tell what happened and feel the feelings is overwhelming and scary. It is important to seek help from a trained professional when needed.

Repeat these steps for as long as necessary as many times as needed before moving on. Remember, it takes as long as it takes.

When Peter asked Jesus, “If my brother sins against me, how many times should I forgive him? As many as seven times?” To which Jesus replied, not seven times, but seventy times seven times (Matthew 18: 21-22). In other words, as many times as it takes.

Granting Forgiveness

In my way of thinking, “granting forgiveness” is not as simple as saying “I forgive you.” Honest and sincere forgiveness requires that we are able to hold the other person in the same process of empathy outlined above until we are able to witness their humanity and their divinity. The steps are the same:

First: Willingness. We must first be willing to see the other from a different perspective. In some cases, it may first require us, as they say in Twelve Steps, to become willing to be willing.

Second: Tell what happened.

Third: Extend compassion. Connect with what they might have been feeling at the time.

Fourth: Ask your heart, “What did they value that they were deprived of?” Be curious about what they valued that they were not experiencing at the time. How might they have been disconnected from their humanity and their divinity?

Fifth: Open your heart and mind to connect with your shared humanity and shared divinity.

GET HELP when needed!

We can only be free when we are willing and able to reconnect with our shared humanity and divinity, and begin to tell a new story about the other and ourselves. As Jesus said, until the last remnant of unforgiveness is cleared we are not free.

In my lesson this coming Sunday, August 10, I will explore self-forgiveness. Many find it more difficult to extend the heart of forgiveness to ourselves than to another. Forgiving others is important, but we cannot be free until we forgive completely. And that includes untying the knots that bind us to our past and learning to tell a different story about ourselves.

Join us on Sunday at 10:00 as together we explore this important topic of understanding forgiveness and moving to freedom.

¹ Radical Forgiveness Workshop at Unity on the Avenue - For More Information, click here.

² Introduction to Compassionate Living, a workshop based on Nonviolent Communication, Unity Spiritual Center Denver, Friday, October 20 – 22, 2017 - For More Information contact

³ Matthew 5: 21-26

⁴ There are many translations of The Lord's Prayer. Refer to Prayers of the Cosmos – Meditations on the Aramaic Words of Jesus, by Neil Douglas-Klotz


  1. Is it important to have the difficult conversation with the person who hurt you? This is the hardest part for me.

    1. Unfortunately, it's not a 'yes' or 'no' question. It depends on the situation and the person involved as well as your intention for having the conversation. My opinion is that it is not necessary for your forgiveness process. If you are still in relationship with the person or want to renew a relationship with the person, I think it can be a valuable step to take. If you want to discuss specifics, let me know. I'm happy to meet and talk about it with you.