Forgiving someone is often portrayed in books and movies as a one-time event. In “Pay It Forward” Helen Hunt’s character goes to see her mother and forgives her for all her childhood trauma. It’s a great moment of emotional intimacy and catharsis. Unfortunately what a movie script demands and what life requires are different things. Movies need powerful defining moments. Real-life relationships require work every single day, over and over and over again.
If you’re like most people, you’ve seen more scenes of forgiveness in movies and on TV than you have in everyday life. People rarely forgive each other in public; you’ve seen plenty of people say, “I love you,” to each other in real life, but how many have you seen saying, “I forgive you”? So you get a false idea that when you forgive someone it’s an intense moment, a peak emotional experience, and then it’s over. This mistaken thinking is why forgiveness seems so difficult.
Forgiveness is a Daily Process
What if forgiveness doesn’t happen just once, but every week, or every day, or every hour? What if you can genuinely and sincerely decide to forgive someone, and then realize that you’re still holding things against them? This doesn’t mean you weren’t sincere the first time you forgave them; it means it’s time to forgive them again. If your spouse cheats on you and you decide, after time and talking, that you’d like the relationship to continue, you’d have to be superhuman to forgive them all at once. Rather than trying the impossible, you can resolve that each day when you wake up and see their face, you will forgive them again.
Sometimes you see news reports of grieving parents telling the world that they forgive the person who killed their child. Do you imagine that each time they walk into that child’s room, visit their favorite place or cook the food their child loved, they don’t hate and resent the person who took them away? When those parents look into the news cameras and offer forgiveness, they’re starting a process, not completing an event.
Forgiveness is not a one-off event that’s complete in a moment. Forgiveness is an ongoing process. You don’t need to act as though the other person has done nothing wrong; if that were true, why would they need to be forgiven? You don’t need to pretend everything’s suddenly fixed, or that the past no longer affects you. The other person should of course show some remorse, but they will take time to learn from their mistakes, just as you’ll take time to forgive them. It doesn’t make you a bad person if you really don’t want to forgive them; you need to be realistic about how much time and energy you actually have. And you don’t forgive and forget; you forgive and you remember and you make the choice to forgive again.
15 Powerful Forgiveness Quotes
“Forgiveness is not a one-time-only event. It is a process.”
– Rhonda Britten
“Forgiveness is a process of giving up the old for something new. Old experiences and memories that we hold on to in anger, resentment, shame, or guilt cloud our spirit mind. The truth is, everything that has happened had to happen. It was a growth experience. There was something you needed to know or learn. If you stay angry, hurt, afraid, ashamed, or guilty, you miss the lesson. You will be stuck in a cloud of pain.”
– Iyanla Vanzant
“Forgiving is not about forgetting, it’s letting go of the hurt.”
– Mary McLeod Bethune
“Forgiveness is the process of dropping off your emotional baggage.”
– Tim Fargo
“Forgiveness is both a decision and a process.”
– Mark Driscoll
“Few things accelerate the peace process as much as humbly admitting our own wrongdoing and asking forgiveness.”
– Lee Strobel
“There is only one thing harder in this world than forgiving. It’s to ask forgiveness armed only with, ‘I’m sorry’.”
– Erma Bombeck
“Forgiveness works two ways, in most instances. People have to forgive themselves too. The powerful have to forgive themselves for their behavior. That should be a sacred process.”
– Sidney Poitier
“We must not only speak about forgiveness and reconciliation, we must act on these principles.”
– Desmond Tutu
“To be kind, honest and have positive thoughts to forgive those who harm us and treat everyone as a friend to help those who are suffering and never to consider ourselves superior to anyone else: even if this advice seems rather simplistic, make the effort of seeing whether by following it you can find greater happiness.”
– Dalai Lama
“Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.”
– Ann Landers
“For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”
– Bell Hooks
“Compassion is the basis of morality.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer
“Spoken forgiveness, no matter how heartfelt, works best when we do not demand the response we want. I mean that when we tell people we forgive them, we must leave them free to respond to our good news however they are inclined. If the response is not what we hoped for, we can go home and enjoy our own healing in private.”
– Lewis B. Smedes
“Forgiveness does not mean that we have to continue to relate to those who have done us harm. In some cases the best practice may be to end our connection, to never speak to or be with a harmful person again. Sometimes in the process of forgiveness a person who hurts or betrayed us may wish to make amends, but even this does not require us to put ourselves in the way of further harm.”
– Jack Kornfield
“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
– Corrie Ten Boom