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Life Lessons: Forgiveness

hayley mcdonnell life lessons the retreat Sep 15, 2021

By Hayley McDonnell.

I’ve always tried to believe that when exchanging gifts that ‘the pleasure was in the giving and not the receiving’. Of course, this works best, if at all, with tangible gifts though I throw in a caveat here as the intended reaction is of gratitude and not greed and this is best discerned with a tangible gift. I have personally always enjoyed thinking of and buying presents pertinent to the receiver and over the years have become more and more aware of the necessity of ‘conscious consumerism’ in my purchase choices. However, the most pleasure is resolutely found in handing over a gift, the immediate reaction gleaned, and clear feedback immediately given.

So, what about other gifts such as the intangible ones or the gifts in the form of talents and abilities? Do they evoke the same reaction, and should we expect them to? What about gifts that aren’t gratefully received or wanted? A gift that is both intangible yet integral to Christian theology is the concept of forgiveness. At the heart of its doctrine, forgiveness is the gift that Jesus offers his followers without an expectation or need for acknowledgement from the recipient. Once received, the follower simply accepts and adheres to a life following Christ’s teaching with the knowledge that any previous wrongdoings have now been ‘righted’, and the believer can move on. The challenge with this concept is that the follower might find it difficult to follow all of Christ’s teaching and the guilt they were feeling has now been replaced by the guilt of receiving something they do not feel they deserve.

There is also the challenge of living in a world where credence is placed on the abundance of material goods. Hashe Lais who wrote for The Independent in 2017 wrote: ‘Our mental health breakdown comes from overlooking a key contributing factor; our spiritual vacuum and insatiable materialism.’

So, forgiveness as a gift contributes to filling that ‘spiritual vacuum’. It is intangible and abundant; it transcends all demographics of class, culture, age, and location and should be in acute abundance as it has no ‘material’ value. As previously mentioned, it is a fundamental concept of Christian theology, and this doctrine has been practised for over 2,000 years by Christians all around the world. Matthew 17:3 is a clear indication of Jesus’ view as it includes the reciprocal formula in The Lord’s Prayer, ‘Forgive us as we forgive others …’.

Forgiveness can have both micro and macro implications, and using the song lyric from Chesney Hawkes, ‘I am the one and only’ and taking inspiration from it thus a micro perspective, one might believe ‘I only have one life, I’m going to make the most of it’, or ‘I’m here for a good time, not a long time’ and so on. However, contrast it with English poet and cleric John Donne, who stated: ‘No man is an island’, the macro factors of lifestyle choices can be added on. 

The Hindu tradition of Sanatana Dharma denotes the eternal laws or rules which Hindu’s subscribe to in order to have an overarching sense of karma. Karma is the effects of a person’s actions that determine their destiny in the next incarnation. All living beings are responsible for their own karma and so will not look to others to offer what they are looking for. However, its roots are found firmly in Vedic scripture and the stories of Hindu gods. One such example of text that is to be understood and implemented by mere mortals is the Mahabharata, which tells us:

Forgiveness is virtue; forgiveness is sacrifice; forgiveness is the Vedas; forgiveness is the Shruti.

Forgiveness protecteth the ascetic merit of the future; forgiveness is asceticism; forgiveness is holiness; and by forgiveness is it that the universe is held together.

— Mahabharata, Book 3, Vana Parva, Section XXIX, [56]

Righteousness is the one highest good, forgiveness is the one supreme peace, knowledge is one supreme contentment, and benevolence, one sole happiness.

— Mahabharata, Book 5, Udyoga Parva, Section XXXIII, [57]

The above quotes reveal the necessity to forgive if a Hindu is choosing to follow scripture. The implications of reincarnation are derived from actions to others as well as to oneself. Are there circumstances and situations where it's impossible to forgive? You may think so and that is the point because forgiveness is a personal choice. Even if you are strictly following the doctrines of a theological framework, you personally might find it difficult because of what has happened to you.

The capacity to forgive is often met with resistance; quite simply we may not want to forgive someone for something that has happened. The consequence of this, however, is the realisation that it’s only us who continues to suffer by holding onto that resentment. The other person in this equation is not feeling those negative emotions and are quite possibly living their life none the wiser about how you are feeling. Maybe you are the only one who is affected by forgiveness or lack thereof. Perhaps to bridge the gap between the two, you may choose to read this Hawaiian prayer which says: ‘I forgive people but that doesn’t mean I accept their behaviour or trust them. I forgive them for me so I can let go and move on with my life.’

Forgiveness as a construct is therefore very different to forgiveness as a reality. One example of forgiveness in the face of adversity is Eva Kor, a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, who tells her story here and her response using the gift of forgiveness 

Equally as compelling is the personal journey of Julie Nicholson 

My own personal journey with forgiveness is very real and immediate. Someone whose behaviour had a destructive and devastating effect on a member of my family, with far-reaching and long-term repercussions, fleetingly comes to mind (with a very deliberate choice of the word ‘fleetingly’). For these reasons, forgiveness for me is not an option. What I have done, however, is forgive myself for having these feelings and have accepted them, and I have made an overt decision not to think about this person or make them part of my life in any way.


Spiritual - What are your beliefs and experiences about forgiveness? Remember, it is a personal relationship with the concept of forgiveness. Your ideas might share the doctrines of Christianity or Hinduism, but they will still be personal to you because no one else will have the same experiences as you.


Moral - Do you think that any behaviour is forgivable?


Social - What other practical ways are there to resolve conflict if forgiveness is not an option?


Cultural - Do you think justice works well in the British justice system? Do you feel the same about other justice systems around the world?


Hayley McDonnell is a Personal Development/SMSC consultant and author intent on bridging the gap between countries, cultures, customs and ultimately people with “Global Collaboration” Her aim is to make our world feel smaller by connecting with our similarities and embracing our differences. She loves to travel and meet new people from different backgrounds, countries and cultures. You can find out more about Hayley here.



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