The Art of Forgiveness

I submitted this essay in application for the Dr. Ellen Taliaferro Scholarship to the San Francisco Writers Conference 2017. The prompt was this: Write 500 words or less on the power of forgiveness. So I did. And I won! The conference took place at the Mark Hopkins Hotel this past weekend. It was fabulous. Thank you Dr. Taliaferro!

“It took a long time, but as soon as I let go of my anger and resentment, I was free. I dropped the chains I’d been carrying around like Ebenezer Scrooge and felt as if a single balloon could lift me off the ground and carry me to the sky.”

I wrote those words some time ago while working on a story in which my main character had been betrayed. She was suffocating under the weight of her own hostility and venom. As the writer who created this character, I understood her refusal to forgive. In fact, I was quite sure I didn’t want her to. But as any writer knows, sometimes characters have minds of their own, as if they can jump off the page and poke the author on the shoulder and demand we go in a different direction. That’s what my character did – she forced me to allow her to forgive . . . of course that changed the trajectory of my plot, but that’s another story!

I used to think forgiveness could only be given following an apology. I mean, why should I let someone off the hook who isn’t sorry for acting against me? It makes sense that apology and forgiveness go together. They are opposite sides of the same coin. They complement each other like ingredients in a recipe: 

Sift equal amounts guilt, remorse, and admission of wrongdoing into bowl. Add an open mind, a kind heart, and a scoop of understanding; stir gently; bake as long as it takes. Enjoy the delicious blend of sincere apology and heartfelt forgiveness.

But over time I’ve learned that forgiveness is like a piece of art that stands on its own. It might be part of a set, but it is still complete and rich with possibility all by itself. A willingness to “let it go,” with or without the apology, makes us better people. People who forgive readily are happier, easier to get along with, and have more patience. They don’t hold grudges or revisit old arguments and are kinder than those who choose to stay angry. And what I find most interesting, people who forgive are quicker to recognize their own faults and apologize for their own misdeeds.

So, back to the story in which my character decided to forgive her betrayer . . . She and I ended up parting ways, and I decided to set the story aside. But my opinionated character left me with a wonderful gift, a message whispered into my ear:

“The true beneficiary of forgiveness is not the one who receives it . . . it is the one who grants it.”

I’d love to hear from you in comments below. And if you aren’t already, please follow my blog by entering your email in the box on the right. Thanks!

19 thoughts on “The Art of Forgiveness

  1. Ellen Gambrell

    While I find forgiveness a true blessing, I must chew on the bone until there is absolutely no marrow left to chew. That’s how I am. Especially when the person who wronged me will not take responsibility for their actions, I chew (and stew) a little longer. What a I’ve come to realize is that I eat the poison of another’s transgression(s) and expect the transgressor(s) to die. I do eventually forgive, but in the meantime, my committee of who did what to whom will meet at the strangest of times … 2:00am for example. Your thoughts are perfect and something I may like to work on a little more. Thanks Julie.

    Reply
    1. Julie Brown Post author

      Thank you Ellen! After I finished this essay, I marinated a little about the difference between actually forgiving someone and just letting go of hurt or anger. There is a difference. Thankfully I was limited to 500 words, so I didn’t have room to get into that!

      Reply
    1. Julie Brown Post author

      I hope your friend finds my thoughts helpful in some way. I do believe there’s a difference between true forgiveness and letting go of anger. Certainly more art than science as we navigate such challenges.

      Reply
  2. Winifred Morice

    Julie, this is brilliant…have read it twice and just love the way you wove these thoughts so coherently. Of course you won. So happy for you. I am sharing this. Your wisdom is needed out in the world.

    Reply
  3. Katie

    Yes.. I truly believe in forgiveness.. It’s the only way to peace.. but I simply cannot and will not forgive the transgression. With out remorse… without repentance and a firm resolve to ‘sin no more’ ( isn’t that what we learned in second grade?) there can be no closure.. Yes, we can choose to walk away and try to forget,,,but darlings, you cannot un ring a bell.. It’s not up to me to judge.. that’s God’s job.. but I sure as hell don’t have to put up with anymore of the same. So sure.. I forgive.. and I forgive myself for the anger and despair brought on by the ‘transgressor’ but to allow more of the same… nope.. not gunna happy.. go in peace my children.

    Reply
    1. Julie Brown Post author

      I agree Katie. Letting go of anger and refusing to stew doesn’t mean we let somebody off the hook. And some actions are unforgivable plain and simple.

      Reply
  4. Bonnie H Corre

    Absolutely loved your piece! It is no wonder you won first place. It made me think a lot about forgiveness from a new angle which I really appreciate. Having a reader absorb a new perspective in such crystal clear terms from reading an article is a gift. Thank you Julie!

    Reply
  5. Shelly

    I am SO PROUD of you!! Your essay shows what we should all strive for in our lives so that we can move forward in a direction that allows happiness and the recognition of all we have that is good in our lives. After suffering betrayals or disappointments delivered by those we care about, it seems natural to expect apologies. If there are no apologies, the seeds of anger, hurt,and indignation cause our world to change. We begin to change. The hurtful event consumes our focus. The wonderful and good things we still enjoy fade in importance. Only when the realization hits that by giving so much time and importance to negativity, we are losing our powers to enjoy and be happy in our life can we know we have to let the anger go. I’ve heard it said that the best revenge in life is to be happy. To me that means to focus on the positive things in our lives. Creativity and strength are the result of positive energy. Only with forgiveness do we diminish the importance of a negative energy spiral .

    Reply
    1. Julie Brown Post author

      Oh, thank you Shelly! Forgiveness is complicated. And I believe we can pull ourselves out of a negative energy spiral by deciding to let go of anger. It doesn’t necessarily mean we let somebody off the hook… xoxo

      Reply
  6. Ann

    This is so beautifully written and so insightful. I’m having a hard time settling the juxtoposition of this brilliant writer of deep wisdom with the tiny tot I still remember meeting for the first time!

    Reply
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  8. Grace

    Lovely to read this – congratulations on your win – well deserved. Thank you for your kind words on my website http://www.practicalcreativewriting.com
    I too rebel at the idea of forgiveness without apology and like many others I have had to reconcile myself with the idea of letting go of the offense in order to achieve peace of mind.
    Such is life – if you want a quiet one 🙂
    Grace

    Reply

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