A few years ago, I gave a presentation at my workplace on the topic of forgiveness. When I let my co-workers know what I would be speaking about forgiveness, my peers let out a collective groan, indicating their discomfort on the topic. This response is indicative of most individuals’ relationship with forgiveness; in fact, if you paused in this moment and checked in with your emotions and body sensations, I imagine you might notice reactions within your internal system, possibly a part trying to protect you from pain or suffering.
The Book of Forgiving
In order to gain a better understanding on the process of forgiveness, I turned to The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu. Much has been written about the suffering endured by Archbishop Tutu, as well as his extending of forgiveness when he could have instead pursued revenge. As a leader and advocate for reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa, he has gained first-hand knowledge of both the power and pain that comes with extending forgiveness to individuals and systems that have caused him harm.
Archbishop Tutu and Reverend Tutu define forgiveness as “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” They also make sure to describe what forgiveness is not: forgiveness, they write, is not condoning or forgetting the harmful actions of others. While we often consider forgiveness as an act of releasing others from judgement or punishment, it is actually an act that frees ourselves from the anger and hatred that can entangle us with those who have harmed us.
The authors recognize the mental anguish that often accompanies even considering forgiving others, or ourselves. Below, you will find a reprinting of a meditation and prayer that they provide for those considering walking along this forgiveness journey. In Part 2 of this blog post, we’ll identify the four steps they detail as practical ways to facilitate the life-changing power of forgiveness.
The Prayer Before the Prayer, by Archbishop Tutu and Reverend Tutu
I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes
Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it to me not yet but soon
Can I even form the words
Dare I even look?
Do I dare to see the hurt I have caused?
I can glimpse all the shattered pieces of that fragile thing
That soul trying to rise on the broken wings of hope
But only out of the corner of my eye
I am afraid of it
And if I am afraid to see
How can I not be afraid to say
Is there a place where we can meet?
You and me
The place in the middle
The no man’s land
Where we straddle the lines
Where you are right
And I am right too
And both of us are wrong and wronged
Can we meet there?
And look for the place where the path begins
The path that ends when we forgive