Broken Fences: Freedom in Forgiveness

The other day I was having a usual deep philosophical discussion with my daughter, Maddie. I talked to her about how a person can make up for past mistakes. The analogy I gave was one I heard awhile ago. If you walk past a fence and knock it down, you have to go back and repair or replace the fence. We discussed intent. That’s an important question. There is more culpability if you knock the fence down on purpose. However, imagine that you walked by with a stick and didn’t know you were knocking down the fence. It was an accident. I explained that the fence is still broken because of your action so you have to go back and fix it. She said something incredibly insightful. Maddie said, “It depends what the fence owner thinks. Maybe he would understand it was just a mistake and it’s okay. You don’t have to go back and fix it. He’d take care of it.” She makes a great point. God is a fence owner who understands and He keeps fixing our mistakes if we ask Him to.

Most people agree that holding on to our past mistakes or grudges against others who have hurt us, will leave us standing in the same spot or going backwards. So why is it so hard for us to make the choice to move on? Many times it is the simple fact that we are unwilling to forgive ourselves and/or others. I’ve heard people say that forgiving others is important because it benefits the forgivers by offering a release, making them feel better. This is favorable for their own health and other personal relationships. I believe this to be true, however it lacks motivation. If we were to act on what makes us feel better, than we would probably be more likely to hold on to that anger. Anger feels good because it feels like justice. Several years back I had dinner with the Dean of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Gladys Sweeney. In her scholarly fashion she stated, “Mercy is the ultimate form of justice, but if we do not know love, we cannot know this.” If God forgives us and loves us, then are we not called to forgive and love others in just the same manner?

Making amends for the harm we have caused others is another step in finding freedom from the bondage of the past. If it is possible to make it up to the person you have harmed, try to do that. There is no way to go back and change the past, but we have right now and hopefully time in the future to make up for our transgressions. Over time, people do heal by our love and affirmative actions. If it is not possible to do good for someone you have wronged, then do good for others. If you stole or cheated someone, give back what you have taken. If you are unable to give restitution directly to that person, make a donation to a charity. There are many places who will gladly accept donations. For example, there are many organizations who help more than 11 million Syrian refugees, many of them children. Organizations like Catholic Relief Services have helped over 1.25 million war affected Syrians by providing food, basic supplies, shelter and clear information about legal options for seeking asylum and international protection. You may also find a local organization to donate, such as Give To Others. The point is to be proactive to build up and restore others to make up for causing damage or being destructive, whether it was accidental or deliberate. Making the world a better place in some way can help us make peace with ourselves by knowing we contributed to others growth and well being.

Everyone makes mistakes. Our imperfections make us human. Forgiving ourselves makes us kinder toward others. If we make the decision to forgive, we begin to heal. We will also see ourselves with more clarity. If we examine why we committed our offenses, most of the time we will see that we acted out of some type of need. The greatest human need is to be loved. Many mistakes are made because we need love and do not know how to get it. Knowing our needs helps us to avoid future mistakes and find healthier ways of meeting our needs. Whatever haunts you, face it, do your best to make amends. Then bury it. For good.