Sunday, March 5, 2017

Freedom in Forgiveness

I talk to a lot people about forgiveness. It's only natural when you make a documentary about the topic of forgiveness that it would lead to lots of conversations. I continue to learn as I talk to people, sometimes even if it just cementing in my brain something that I learned previously.

Yesterday I was in a conversation and the person said he often forgives because he doesn't want to feel chained to that experience or that person who hurt him. There is freedom in not holding yourself hostage with an unforgiving heart.

When I walked the Camino de Santiago, I met a man from Germany. Michael and I spent a number of days walking together and he allowed me to interview him for my film. Here is a tiny excerpt from his interview:

This popped into my head during my conversation yesterday. I really like how Michael so clearly equates forgiveness with freedom. In parts of the interview that didn't make the final cut, he had talked about a few very difficult situations in his life. This made him the man he was, someone who is was very matter-of-fact in the point that there truly is no other way for him than to forgive.

When we forgive, we are not holding on to negative feelings of anger, resentment, mistrust, etc. When you give up those feelings, you allow yourself instead to be open to joy, to look for good in other people, to trust that others won't do what that person did to you. When you approach other relationships from this positive stance, those experiences will be better for it. You will be better for it.

So if you are struggling to forgive, think of the positive things that will come from forgiving. Think of the others in your life who will benefit from having a forgiving, positive person in their lives. Think of the freedom you will feel when you stop focusing on the hurt and break the chains that are binding you to the person who wronged you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Fluent in forgiveness

As a pilgrim I met along the way, who is in "A Way to Forgiveness" says - forgiveness is like learning a language. The more you do it, the easier it comes. I liked the way he put that and it was helpful to me then and still strikes me when I watch the film with a new audience.

At a screening on Saturday, there was a question during the Q&A portion that led me to think about people who I know just a little who have done something to hurt me. I realized that I haven't taken the time to forgive them because those people mean so little to me. When someone you love hurts you, I think that the love can compel you to try to forgive. Without great love, there is not great hurt, and not a great desire to right the relationship.

If you are forgiving mostly for yourself - to let go of pain and heal - then maybe you don't need to forgive those people. But the call to forgive is to repair relationships. This doesn't mean every time you forgive, there is reconciliation and the relationship will go back to what it was before. It means that when there has been hurt, there is a brokenness that needs to be tended to. Even if that person means very little to you and thus the hurt may be smaller and the desire to forgive may be small, there is still some brokenness. Should that not be repaired?

What about a perfect stranger who does something to you? Presumably you don't love that person (any more than you love any person just for being human), so the desire or need to forgive would not grow out of the level of love. Instead. I believe that in those circumstances, the need to forgive increases with the level of the offense. If a stranger does something small, like cut you off in traffic, you can quickly forgive and it almost means nothing to you. But if they rob you or physically harm you, then there is deeper brokenness that will need to be addressed despite the lack of relationship.

I confess, I felt convicted in front of that audience on Saturday, realizing that as I spoke about how to forgive, there were people that I hadn't forgiven. We are called to forgive widely and often, to forgive loved ones and strangers alike.

So perhaps those offenses by people who aren't a big part of our life are the first lessons in this new language of forgiveness. Instead of sweeping them under the rug, we should deal with them so that we can be fluent in forgiveness when it is more strongly needed.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Communicating Forgiveness

The process of forgiveness is one of continuous choices.
  • Do you want to forgive the other?
  • Can you forgo receiving an apology and still forgive?
  • Are you able to live every day with the spirit of forgiveness?
  • Will you communicate to the other person that you forgive them?

That last decision brings up a few more questions:

Is it necessary to tell the person you have forgiven that you have forgiven him/her?
If you are forgiving for yourself, is this communication really needed? Perhaps not. You got what you were seeking – healing. If they don't think they did anything needing to be forgiven, then this step of communication may lead to more frustration if they push back.

Will communicating with them be harmful to you?
If you are forgiving an act of violence and communicating with that person puts you or someone else in harms way, then your safety is too important to risk opening communication. If there is no threat to safety, then you may wish to go ahead. However, if you think communicating forgiveness will miraculously make the person give you an apology when they never have shown remorse, you may be setting yourself up for additional pain. Be prepared for a “non-response” from the other.

Is there an upside to communicating forgiveness?
So, it may not be necessary and could very possibly not be well-received to communicate forgiveness. But is it possible that there is a positive outcome to communicating forgiveness? Forgiving another is an act of mercy and it can deflate ongoing conflict. Instead of you fighting back against a hurt, you are putting an end to the offense. That could give the other room to diffuse their feelings and not act just out of reaction.

More than that, if you communicate forgiveness, you could give a very powerful message to the other. You are saying that they are more than that offense. Everyone makes bad choices, but unless the other person is a sociopath, that does not have to define who they are.

If you stole something and forever more were called a thief, you would feel like that is all you should be, that the label “thief” is who you are. Provided you aren't actually a kleptomaniac, this is an unbalanced categorization of your character. Alternatively, if someone said what you did was wrong, but they know you are capable of good and they are willing to let you show that you will not steal again, you would feel free to be a better person in other regards.

Again, the other person may not apologize and still may not see what they did as wrong, but you could be giving them a two-fold gift – first forgiving and secondly letting them know that they have goodness in them. Really, those are both gifts to yourself. You are not holding hate in your heart and you are choosing to have a positive outlook and not letting that person alter how you look at people and their intentions.

How about you? Do you feel it is necessary or good to tell the other person that you forgive them?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Accepting Forgiveness

A lot of talk on forgiveness has to do with when you are the one who has been hurt and must decide to forgive or not. But what about when you are on the other end of forgiveness? Can you accept that act of mercy?

I think a few elements must be present to accept the gift of forgiveness.

Remorse for what you have done. Sure, the other person may not have needed an apology from you to be able forgive, but if you don't have regret, if you don't think there was anything to be forgiven, then you wouldn't have to receive forgiveness. If you are truly going to take in the merciful act, you need acknowledge and be sorry for what you have done.

Forgive yourself. Some people can't accept that someone would forgive them for what they have done. They think what they did is beyond forgiving. I think that is a sure sign that they have not forgiven themselves. The same steps to forgiveness apply no matter if it is another or it is yourself that you need to forgive. Realize the strength that person had to forgive you and match it with your own strength to forgive.

Resolve to do better. I know this is the Catholic in me, borrowing from words spoken in the confessional, where we say “I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more.” But truly, the best apology is changed behavior. If the person forgave you and you have forgiven yourself, then you both know whatever happened was unacceptable. Don't do it again. Whatever you did, you also broke a level of trust. To rebuild that trust you need to show that you will not repeat the offense.

Relationships of any kind will inevitably include something that needs to be forgiven. No matter which side of an offense you are on – accept forgiveness. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wanting Good for Another

I've heard it said that love is “wanting the good for another.”

So what do you do when that person you love does something to hurt you and chooses to leave your life? How do you continue to “want the good” for them when they seem to not want the good for you?

I wrestled with many emotions as I walked across Spain on the Camino de Santiago to deal with the death of my marriage. Along the way, I made friends with other pilgrims and discussed forgiveness, among other topics of life. One woman who is featured in the documentary of my journey said something that stuck with me. We were talking about forgiving strangers versus forgiving people who are really part of your life. She said that you only have to go through forgiveness with the people whom you really love because the impact of them is much higher than the impact a stranger.

I'm not sure I totally agree with that. In a situation of violence, the impact is certainly very big, no matter who the offender is. It is a different dynamic of forgiveness if you know the person, of course. But there are so many examples of profound forgiveness toward a stranger, which I addressed in my last blog post on unforgiveness.

If it is someone you loved that hurt you, the love doesn't miraculously go away when the relationship ends because they hurt you. In fact, that is why the pain is so deep – because you have such profound love. The level of negative feelings is so intense since it is someone you loved and never thought would do something to hurt you.

But with great love can come extraordinary grace and the immense beauty of forgiveness.

It doesn't mean that it is easier. That is really what my Camino friend was saying, that it can be harder especially for that reason - that you love them. For me, the only way I got through the pain was the grace of God and was only able to forgive because of the love. Despite the fact that I was hurt, I still wanted the good for my former spouse. Most days. Some days I wanted nothing good for him.

I started with prayer. I prayed every day as I walked. I prayed for healing from the broken marriage. I prayed for myself. And at the end of each prayer time, I mustered up the courage to pray for my former spouse. At the beginning of the journey, admittedly, the prayers were selfish. “Lord, let him apologize.” “God please let him see the error of his ways” “Jesus, please...” well, you get the idea. But I did pray.

Another thought the woman on the Camino said kept ringing in my head. Speaking of problems she has with someone she loves and she said, “if I love, I love the whole. I love the bad and I love the good.”

Yes, my former husband made some choices that hurt me. And while our vows of “til death do us part” were not lived up to, I could still learn from having vowed to love “in good times and in bad, for better and for worse.” The dynamic of the love was shifting and fading in some ways, but there was still some type of love for him as a human being, as a child of God.

My desire to forgive always came from my faith. I know that Jesus forgives the worst in all of us and asks the same from us, so I wanted to heed his call. Further, in the bible we are called to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

So even today, nearly two years after I walked the Camino, I continue to pray for my former spouse on my daily walk. I'm happy to report that these days my prayers are much more focused on him. I've changed to asking, “God, please help him be the man you are calling him to be.” “Lord, please be in his life and let him turn to you.”

It is agonizing to be hurt by someone you love. But there is beauty in forgiveness and for me, that came through the prayer. And the underlying desire to want the good of another. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Unforgivable

At a networking event last week the topic of forgiveness came up, as it often does for me now as I tell people about my documentary. The discussion turned to the idea of things that are unforgivable. The person who staunchly held the opinion that certain offenses can not be forgiven clearly had some trauma from the past that was still very present. I did my best to have compassion while calling this person to see the value of forgiveness.

But are there things which are unforgivable? As I interviewed people along the Camino de Santiago about this topic, most people were positive about the prospect of forgiveness, difficult as the process may be. One person – who did not make the final cut of the film, unfortunately – said that she believes certain offenses – abuse of children and murder – are unforgivable. Others I have talked to add sexual abuse and rape to that list. And for some, they add marital infidelity or other deception.

So what makes an act unforgivable? Is it the vulnerability of the victim? The intent of the offender? The depth of depravity of the offense? Whether or not an offense is repeated? The lack of an apology?

First, we must define what it means to forgive. It is to give up the anger and resentment of an offense, to pardon that incident. It does not mean you are condoning the behavior. It does not mean that the offender should not deal with consequences what he/she did. If it was a criminal act, they should be brought to the proper authorities. Forgiveness absolutely does not mean that the victim should be forced to continually be put in a position to be the target of the offender, as in a case of abuse. Safety is paramount.

So given that understanding, is anything really unforgivable? What would stand in the way? I dare say what stands in someone's way of forgiving is their own mind. Forgiveness is an act of the will. It is a choice. Albeit, a very heavy, difficult choice, but a choice all the same.

I have read too many stories of radical forgiveness to believe that we as a society can unconditionally deemed certain acts unforgivable. Parents have been able to forgive their children's murders make the news. I personally know women who have been able to forgive their rapists. There are entire websites devoted to helping adults forgive the abuse they endured as children.

Yes, I write this as someone who has not had to forgive an act of physical violence. However, the biggest things I have had to forgive in my life are things some people list as “unforgivable.” Yet, I was able to forgive.

For me as a Christian, I look to Christ as my model. If He could forgive those who tortured and murdered Him, then that is my example of forgiveness. As He hung on the cross, He used some of His last breath to forgive. Wow. That is radical forgiveness.

Further, if I expect to have things I have done forgiven, can I really cling to an idea that there are some actions that are unforgivable? I would never want to categorically cut off the mercy of God, lest I find myself counted in that unforgiveness.

So, if there is something in your life that you deem unforgivable, I ask you to reflect on what the cost of forgiveness would be and what you would gain from the forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process, so you don't have to rush into it. Remember, it is an act of will that is in your control. You couldn't control that person doing harm to you, but you can control what role that event plays in you life and how you respond to it.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Strength of Vulnerability

I walked the Camino de Santiago, the centuries-old Catholic pilgrimage in northern Spain, for a very specific reason. While I had wanted to walk the Camino for about 15 years, and it was only when my 12-year marriage was ending that I decided it was time to go for that long walk. A 500-mile walk to be precise.

Since I am a screenwriter and filmmaker, I felt I would be remiss if I did not bring my camera along to capture my journey. Even as I lugged the extra weight across a country, I wasn't sure if anything was going to come of all the filming beyond a video diary for myself.

I ultimately decided to share my experience in a documentary after I returned home and reviewed the raw footage. I watched a conversation I had which seemed to leave an impact on the other person. I realized that by sharing my story with him, he was able to see that he was not alone and he walked away thinking about things in a new way. I figured that perhaps others could be helped by witnessing me get over this heartache and trying to achieve forgiveness. I had already endured the pain, so I figured I should turn it into something good and try to help others.

Opening up to each other on the Camino.
Thus, “A Way to Forgiveness” was made and released into the world. The response to my documentary has been overwhelming and humbling. I have been approached by audience members who say, “thank you for being so vulnerable and honest.” In the film, I am extremely open about the pain of the divorce I was going through and I didn't hold back much of my experience.

I have been thinking a lot about the word “vulnerable” as I have had viewers respond in kind – with openness of their own as they share their stories with me. As I am wont to do, I looked up vulnerable in the dictionary as I continued to ruminate on this idea. I was taken aback as I read the words “susceptible to attack or harm.” And further, the thesaurus presented synonyms of “weak,” unsafe,” “sucker,” and “insecure.”
A bad day on the Camino that is featured in the film.

I realize opening up about my journey searching to find a way to forgive my former husband and find a way out of the hole of depression is not a choice every person would make. But contrary to the synonyms in the dictionary, I feel there is strength in sharing my story. Further, I don't feel like I'm opening myself up to harm. And surely, people who commend this vulnerability are not meaning to call me a sucker.

There's a saying on the Camino that “everyone walks their own Camino.” We are all going the same way but we each have our own experience. Along the way, we bond as pilgrims in search of something. As we let our guard down and invited each other into our stories, we connected in strong ways.

Bonding as we walk. The Camino provides good friends and laughter.

This is the same in life in general, we're all going through life together but on our own journey. And if we can just be brave enough to be share a bit of ourselves in complete honesty, that is how we genuinely relate with others along the way. If we have the courage to let our walls down and let someone in, that is where the beauty of human connection resides.

Based on the responses of audiences, I am not alone the in seeing the strength in being vulnerable. Letting audiences in on my own quest for forgiveness has given them the opportunity to reflect on forgiveness in their own lives. Viewers have sought me out to share themselves and give me a glimpse into their own stories. It has been so moving to connect with people in such a deep and truthful way.

If you dare to vulnerable, you can watch “A Way to Forgiveness” online or on DVD. Visit