The Power of Forgiveness: Tossing Out the Mental File Folder

My first boss out of college was very hard on me. She was critical, demanding and impatient. I was young, immature and overly self-confident. She gave few compliments and was generous with criticism. I found myself keeping a mental file of every insult and comment thrown at me. I almost looked forward to her next comment so I could add it to my collection of wrongs. Eventually, I found that I was obsessed with proving the injustices and marking every infraction.

file folder

Eventually I realized that I was the only one carrying the file. The file was just in my head and was doing nothing for me but cluttering my mind. It had given me a false sense of power and it made my soul gangrene. I decided to take my boss to lunch. I told her that I would appreciate it if she would acknowledge me in the morning before asking me to do something. That pretty much summed up everything in the file. I wanted to be treated like a human being. She said she of course could do that, that she knew she was a really hard person to work for, but that’s just how she was and I would have to get over it.

That was that. It was the closest to reconciliation we were going to get. It’s all I needed. I had said my peace, stood up for myself and found that I was able to empty the file folder and let everything go.

Today, I feel I owe her the apology. She had to put up with a young, insecure, egotistical college graduate who had never been told she wasn’t all that great. Today I am indebted to her. I still use many of the skills she taught me. She made me tough and she made better.

This Lent our congregation has been working through the Martin Dublmeier Film, “The Power of Forgiveness.” I have used clips from this film along with Ted Talks featuring presenters from South Africa, Ireland and Rwanda all who have spoken on how to achieve forgiveness and reconciliation on a personal and global scale. If you are interested, the Fetzer Institute provides outstanding handouts and articles on love and forgiveness. Here is their site:


the power of forgiveness

I have facilitated this presentation before, and every time I engage in this discussion on forgiveness I learn something new. Forgiveness is the greatest act of bravery anyone can undertake. It requires a releasing of power and reception of new power. Here are some insights we have had as a group:

Forgiveness is not the same as justice. You can have justice and never reach forgiveness and you can reach forgiveness and never receive justice.

Forgiveness is something that takes practice. Pretend you forgive. Imagine yourself forgiving. Eventually practice will become a performance.

Forgiveness is a daily choice. It’s not something you ever completely check off the life lesson list. “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Forgiveness is for personal benefit. Anger weighs us down, it ties us up and it keeps us from living.
Forgiveness quiets anger, lowers blood pressure, and detoxes your soul.

Forgiveness is not reasonable. It makes no sense to forgive. Forgiveness is not logical. Why should a victim of crime forgive his offender? Why should a victim of abuse forgive her abuser? It makes no sense. Yet, it makes complete sense, if you want to live freely.

Fred Buechner writes, “To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, ‘You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you to be my friend.'” (Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)

In the Art of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes makes the point that even for God, forgiveness is a process. First, God rediscovers the humanity of the person who wronged him. Second, God surrenders his right to get even. Third, God revises his feelings toward us, finding a way to justify us so that when he looks upon us we are restored.

When I was in 8th grade, I received communion for the first time. I remember hearing that Jesus gave us the Bread and Cup so that we could remember that he died for the forgiveness of our sins. I took this very seriously. I still do. I remember thinking that I could not take the Bread and Cup if I had not asked God to forgive me, forgiven others and forgiven myself. Sometimes I would hold that bread in my hands and look at it for a long time before I felt like I could honestly “take and eat and do so in remembrance of him.”

As I swallowed the bread and juice, I would find myself restored. The Lord’s Supper fed my soul with grace, nourished it with love and strengthened to set me free.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow Love.
Where there is injury, thy Pardon, Lord.
Where there is doubt, let there be Faith.
Oh Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.
Where there is despair, let me bring Hope.
Where there is darkness, let there be Light.
Where there is sadness, let there be Joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek:
To be consoled, as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love.
Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow Love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it’s in dying that we are born
To eternal life, to eternal life.
Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace.

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