So who is your corpse?

Forgiving requires strength

Friends, loved ones often hardest to forgive

By Terry Pluto

Thinking about forgiveness…

I know a former NBA coach who said he would watch a game film over and over and over.

“After awhile, I’d start to hate all my players,” he said. “I’d watch them make the same mistake six times and believe they were doing it to me personally.” He said that he’d see a player make two key mistakes, but it seemed like 12 because he watched the tape six times.

That’s why it can be so hard to forgive what sometimes seems a minor issue. We go over it and over it and over it in our heads. We think about it at least 10 times, but it actually only happened once.

Sir Francis Bacon said: “We read we ought to forgive our enemies — but we don’t read that we ought to forgive our friends.” Actually, we’re supposed to forgive everyone, but it’s easier to forgive a stranger or even a boss than friend or relative. We hold the people closest to us to higher standards, and tend to be less tolerant when they fall short.

A breakthrough point came for me when someone told me: “Forgiving is not the same as reconciling. Forgiving doesn’t mean letting a dangerous or crazy person back into your life.”

Suppose you were sexually or physically abused by someone. You can forgive them without allowing them into your home. If an uncle once abused you as a child, you don’t leave your kids with him — even if you have forgiven him. And, yes, even if the uncle has sincerely apologized and seemingly changed his life — well, you still don’t take any chances, or tempt him in an area where he was weak.

In his book Everyone is Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg wrote: “Forgiveness means giving up the right to get even.” That’s because it’s impossible to ever “get even.” Trying to get even can become like poison, because it makes us obsess on the wound, it’s like picking at our own scabs with dirty fingernails. Suddenly, the cut is an infection.

In the book Forgiving and Reconciling, Everett Worthington Jr. wrote: “We usually try to suppress feelings of unforgiveness. We deny that we feel hate. We think, `That hurt didn’t matter.’ Instead of suppressing our feelings, we mostly come to grips with them.”

We don’t want to overestimate our injuries, but it’s even more dangerous to deny that we’ve been hurt. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship for years, counseling may be a part of forgiving. It won’t happen in one day, or one week.

Someone else once told me this story: In ancient days, a form of execution was to strap a fresh corpse to the back of criminal. The diseases from the corpse would infect the live body, killing him slowly. Many of us are like that — we carry around the corpses of old battles and slights, angry at some people who are dead or have long forgotten us — and it’s killing us.

It’s just a personal opinion, but without God’s strength, I have a hard time forgiving anyone. Over and over, I have to call out to God and say, “Lord, I’m giving this to you. I can’t deal with it by myself.”

Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

For me, it takes God’s power to help me see my situation from someone else’s point of view. I resist it. But when I take the time, and sometimes have others help me see it, then it does become easier to forgive. Rarely am I 100 percent in the right.

Forgiving does not necessarily mean forgetting. Some scars will always be with us. Forgiving also doesn’t mean the person won’t do it or say it again. On the job or with our families, sometimes we have to forgive over and over just to function.

Perhaps my favorite forgiveness quote comes from Lewis Smedes (author of The Art of Forgiving): “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.”

Terry Pluto can be reached at Sign up for Terry’s free, weekly e-mail newsletter “Direct from Pluto” at


1 Comment »

  1. Mrs. Big Mac Said:

    Truthfully – there are probably two. Myself and someone from my past who haunts me daily. That’s as specific as I can get.

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