One of my yoga students presented me with the following theme idea:
"I recently watched the movie "Philomena" . . . it broke my heart, made me think, and even provided some moments of laughter and joy. Philomena says to a nun who treated her horribly, sold her child, lied to her and more . . . "I forgive you". What does that mean - to forgive? My husband immediately said I would not have forgiven her! We looked up the word in the dictionary and the definition was pretty vague. I kept thinking what does it mean??
Maya Angelou said "Learn the value of forgiveness. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
"I'm sure you've covered this topic many times but I do think it's something most people struggle with in large and small ways, maybe every day. Could it be as simple as making a choice to put down the burden of not forgiving and walk away? The hardest one to forgive might be ourselves."
When I first read this, I had two immediate thoughts. I think most people would have watched the movie and not had a discussion about it's theme. So I felt since it obviously had had such an impact, enough to discuss it and then to sit down and take the time to send the question to me, made me feel like this was really important for me to answer and get right. Secondly, I thought, I better find out what this movie is all about!
It turns out, that the movie Philomena is based on true story written in the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. The story takes us back to Ireland in 1951 when Philomena has a tryst with a man she meets at a fair. Upon becoming pregnant, her father sends her to live at an abbey. After giving birth, the nuns tell her she must work at the abbey for four years to pay off the expenses she has incurred. And it is about this time, four years later, when Philomena finds out the nuns allowed her son to be adopted. Philomena never tells anyone about the child but attempts, at times, to get information about the adoption. She is told the documents burned in a fire. Fifty years later, Philomena is approached by Martin Sixsmith who wants to write her story. Together, they find out the following cruel truths:
The movie isn't really the premise of the question. The question is about forgiveness. But the movie sure does make you wonder how much more can one person take and shows the amazing strength of Philomena's ability to forgive.
So, I pondered this question and when I awoke this morning, my first thought was "forgiveness is for me." Could it be that simple? I tried to place myself in the shoes of Philomena; could I forgive someone who caused irreversible harm to one of my kids? And I believe I have the answer.
The problem is the word forgive, itself. I don't mean the definition, which is "to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense." The problem is with the connotations associated with the word. Forgive seems easy to say when the offense is small; I forgot to empty the dishwasher like you asked. Okay, I forgive you, do it today.
But when the offense is huge, saying I forgive you feels like I am letting you off the hook, absolving you of your guilt or pain. Even though the definition clearly states to stop feeling angry...that's about me. For me to stop feeling angry.
I think if we simply change the word we are using, we make this concept so much easier on ourselves to implement. Instead of I forgive you, how about I let go of you. I let go. I choose to let go of the pain and the anger and the sadness and the resentment I feel towards you. What if it is someone close to you like a family member? I let go of the pain I am feeling. I choose to love or like the parts of you that are lovable or likeable. If you do not let go of this stuff, it festers inside of you. It only hurts you.
"Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting, it means you choose happiness over hurt."
Do you think the nun from the story cares about the pain she caused? No! She doesn't. She is as happy as a clam inside even though she did the wrong doing. Why should the innocent, Philomena, have to live with remorse and pain and guilt? The truth is she does not have to. And she knows this as she forgives the nun at the end of the story.
Now here's another point to pay close attention to. Does your letting go have to be verbalized to the other person? I think not. If the nun was remorseful and Philomena said I forgive you, the nun would probably have cried and said how sorry she was. And maybe that would make Philomena feel a little bit better inside but it would not change anything. What if the nun wasn't remorseful? She would probably scoff and say you got what you deserved (which is what she does say in the story). Wouldn't that make you feel even worse? It would be a setback.
Forgiveness is about you and for you. It is not for the wrong doer. So let go. Erase the word forgive from your vocabulary if you need to but replace it with let go.
The yoga student who proposed this theme asked, "Could it be as simple as making a choice to put down the burden of not forgiving and walk away?"
To which I say, yes! Because what she describes is letting go.
"As we grow older and wiser, we begin to realize what we need and what we need to leave behind. Sometimes walking away is a step forward."