Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action.
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
I have been thinking a great deal about forgiveness. I find it to be one of the more challenging concepts.
You might infer that I don’t have a full grip on how to forgive. I would say that I have the how-to down–it’s just that forgiveness takes work and can be tricky, especially when I feel I am unfairly treated and my integrity is challenged.
This is when the path to forgiveness proves to be most challenging. But as my grandfather Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Trouble is here. It is for a purpose. Use it for the purpose for which it was intended–to help you grow. Thank God for your troubles.” It is this mindset that I try to rely on when I’m faced with the hurdle of forgiveness. I also use Grandpa’s practical tips for forgiving someone and developing a more forgiving attitude in general.
I work in a crisis-intervention unit at a regional hospital. The crisis-intervention unit is part of the emergency department that serves patients with mental-health issues. As a licensed clinical social worker, I am a part of the assessment and disposition team.
One afternoon last week I did an assessment on a young woman, just 13 years old, who has had a life that would reduce most to tears, if not utter despair: abuse on all levels, exposure to violence and crime, years in foster care, and loss of all contact with her biological parents. This patient was cooperative and responsive throughout our time together. I appreciated her openness and honesty about her unproductive behaviors.
After we finished the assessment I asked this young woman if she could share with me three things about herself that she is most proud of. Without hesitation, she said, “I am good at art. I always try my best. And I am good at forgiving people.” Each of these statements moved me, but that last one blew me away.
Here was a 13-year-old whose pain was a direct result of the unsavory (to say the least) actions of others. Yet she was able to forgive them. When I asked how she forgives, she said simply, “I really don’t have a choice. I have to move forward.”
I told her that she, in fact, did have a choice and she did not have to move forward. It was through her own conviction and strength that she forgave and moved on. I told her that many people with far fewer life issues cannot do what she has done.
I will never know if what I shared with her made any difference, but what I can say is that she made a difference to me and in me. Her life will never be perfect and neither will mine, but she shared a lesson that day that will help me be more productive in the forgiving department.
That evening as I was driving home from work, I saw the above bumper sticker (I have a thing for bumper stickers). How about that for another tap on the shoulder?
Katheryn (Katie) Allen Berlandi is the seventh of Guideposts cofounders Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and Ruth Stafford Peale’s eight grandchildren. She is a clinical social worker with a private practice focusing on children, adolescents and families, and a consultant for Guideposts and the Guideposts Foundation. Katie lives in a small town in Connecticut with her husband, two daughters and son.