Reverb11 Day 7: Forgiveness

Who have you forgiven this year and what was the journey like that brought you to forgive them?

Forgiveness is a really tough topic for me. I forgive others easily (and that’s if I even am hurt, which is rare), but I always seem to hold grudges against myself.

I don’t know that I have forgiven myself much this year.

I messed up, a lot. I messed up my relationship twice this year. I messed up with friends, with family, with work. I do silly things, thoughtless things, hurtful things (not all the time, but sometimes, and usually unconsciously).

Realizing that you need to forgive yourself and move on is difficult. Holding on to the anger and the pain is often the only way to feel like our mistakes have meaning. If it hurts, then you remember.

There’s a German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote a book called The Genealogy of Morals. In this book, he makes the interesting point that a particularity of Christian culture is guilt. We never forgive ourselves because our guilt and our pain keep us in check and dependent unto the will of a higher power (i.e., the priests and the religious institution), the only thing able to forgive us. We ultimately find meaning in this guilt because more guilt means a better chance of being forgiven. The parable of the prodigal son is a good example of a sinful, guilty person receiving grace while the perfect, sinless one is left in the dust.

I’m not Christian, but I was just reminded of this argument while writing (this is how my brain works when I’m working academically). Am I holding on to my pain simply to give meaning to my seemingly meaningless life? Now that I have even less to hold on to–no job, no school–is my guilt a way to retain some sense of myself?

Guilt isn’t good, I know that. I’ve felt its influence before, and all it ended up giving me is anorexia. But right now this guilt gives me a reason to go on, to not give up. I want to make things right, and I won’t forgive myself before I’ve been forgiven.

At what point does feeling bad about a mistake turn into harmful guilt? How do you let go of hurting others even though they’ve forgiven you? And what if they haven’t yet?


1 Comment

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One response to “Reverb11 Day 7: Forgiveness

  1. Marina Devine

    Since you brought up Christianity and the Prodigal Son parable– Catholic teachings distinguish between two kinds of guilt.Unproductive guilt is really despair– for example, Judas’ guilt at betraying Christ, which leads him to suicide.The other, productive guilt, is Peter’s guilt at denying Christ three times before cockcrow– it, too, is full of grief, but it leads Peter to reaffirmation and redemption, as he becomes the first leader of the early Christian church. The point of the Prodigal Son is that this Father is always waiting with open arms, no matter how far the children stray. And speaking of fathers and forgiveness, here’s something you might like from Smoke Signals, a movie all about guilt, forgiveness and a father:

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