The Sacred Art of Forgiveness: Forgiving Ourselves and Others Through God’s Grace
Almost all of us have a person in our lives that we’ve refused to forgive. Here, FaithfulReader.com reviewer Marcia Ford, the author of numerous books (including MEMOIR OF A MISFIT, GOD BETWEEN THE COVERS and TRADITIONS OF THE ANCIENTS), offers practical help for facilitating forgiveness and reconciliation. She also makes a convincing case that forgiveness is essential for our own happiness and peace of mind.
Why do we need another book on forgiveness? Because forgiveness is in such short supply, Ford writes, and we must keep preaching the message, hearing the message, and living the message. In the introduction, Ford says she has become convinced that learning to forgive is one of life’s great lessons. Mixing personal experiences and practical know-how, she takes the reader, step by step, through a basic understanding of what forgiveness entails, why it is important, and what will happen after forgiveness takes place. God, she notes, forgives us relentlessly. And, of course, there’s the catch --- God expects us to forgive relentlessly also. Often this won’t happen under our own power --- we’ll need supernatural power to do it.
Why should we forgive? Ford begins with this question. “It’s about you letting go of your past, changing your present, and protecting your future. It’s about making a better life for yourself, and in some small way, making a better world as well.” Forgiveness makes us healthier people and gives us a better quality of life, she writes, adding that prolonged unforgiveness is associated with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, depression, lowered immunity and stress-related disorders.
Not only do we need to forgive those who have personally wronged us, we also need to forgive more abstract groups of people --- those who fight for causes we are against (think the abortion/homosexuality/war debates among Christians) or who espouse ideas different from our own. We have to put away our desire to be better than others and to be right. Of course, what Ford is driving at is that we have to deal with our pride. I was afraid of that!
Ford tackles the sticky problem of forgiving someone who has died (it’s important to take care of unfinished business) and some ideas about when you should remember the offense even as you forgive the offender. Forgive and forget isn’t always the best motto, especially if abuse is involved. While forgiveness can be offered, remembrance helps us set healthy boundaries. Ford reminds us that we also need to remember acts of horror –- the Holocaust, Rwanda --- to prevent atrocities from happening again. In other words, sometimes we have to remember the offense, even as we forgive the offenders.
Ford also makes the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. They are not the same, she points out. “Sometimes reconciliation is simply unwise; other times, it’s downright dangerous.” Or, as she quotes the late Lewis Smedes, “Reunion can happen only if we can trust the person who wronged us once not to wrong us again.” You don’t have to reconcile with the person you forgive, especially if abuse is involved, she emphasizes. “Attempts at reconciliation are both risky and challenging,” she says in a later passage. Proceed with caution.
In other chapters, Ford notes that the forgiveness of God toward us is transformational. Forgiving others helps us move toward maturity. It puts us back on the path to spiritual growth. But perhaps the most difficult forgiveness is this: We have to learn to forgive ourselves. “Forgiving ourselves becomes a work of self-restoration; we’re putting ourselves back together again, making ourselves the whole person we are meant to be.”
Ford seasons her book with plenty of humor and vulnerable anecdotes, stories of forgiveness from the news and from the Bible, and questions at the end of each chapter to help us reflect on and practice forgiveness. There are quotes from a variety of faith traditions, from Buddha to Francis Schaeffer to the Dalai Lama; Russian monks to rabbis. Most chapters are short, making them perfect for devotional reading.
If you’ve ever said something like, “I could never forgive him!” Ford writes, then you’re probably right. Not by ourselves. But she promises us that with God’s grace, we can be empowered to forgive and to be set free from bitterness.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on May 31, 2006