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The Journey of Forgiveness


As a Spiritual Guide and Mentor over the years, I have frequently dealt with the issue of forgiveness in people’s lives. Gradually over time, I began to realize that forgiveness is a pretty messy, and not very clear cut reality. As a result, I found myself using language with people that said something like,


Forgiveness is a journey, not a light switch.


That was an attempt to articulate the messy process of forgiveness, rather than some simple decision or a state of being we turn on or off.


But what I also discovered over the years was if people were willing to give themselves to this process in a wholehearted way (shoutout to Brene’ Brown for the language there!), they could discover a sense of real freedom in their lives. In fact, maybe it would be more accurate to call this The Journey of Forgiveness that Leads to Real Freedom (but the shorter title fits better on the slide).

Recently I have begun to discover some concrete handles and descriptors for what I believe are the four movements or sections that make up this journey:

The Offense: The Originating Wound

Preparation: Courageous Honesty

The Release: Unlocking Yourself

Affirmation: Ongoing Movement

Let’s unpack each of these sections of the journey, and if you want to listen to a podcast about these ideas while you review these notes, click here.



The Offense: The Originating Wound

Obviously, forgiveness can’t happen unless we have something to forgive. This is The Offense, or what I also refer to as The Originating Wound. There are some characteristics to consider that will help us better identify and understand this first movement.

  • One-time or repeating event: Some wounds are caused by a singular event in time. It happened once, and never happened again, like I was wrongly accused of stealing from my company by my boss. Other wounds happen over time and are often a result of repeated events, like an abusive partner, or someone who constantly lies to me.


  • Individual, group, or institution: It’s also important to recognize that the offending party could be an individual, but it also could be a group, like several “friends” who regularly bully me. But the offender can also be an institution, like a church or a company, or even an entire system, like in the example of racism or sexism.


  • Whenever I have experienced a wounding, it’s possible the offending party may or may not be aware of their offense. That doesn’t change the fact that I have been offended in any way, it simply means they aren’t mindful of what they have done. This can especially be true when the offender is an institution or system.


  • It is also possible that I may not be aware of the depth of the wound I have experienced. There may be times when I have diminished, either on purpose or out of self-preservation, the degree to which I have been hurt. That lack of awareness also doesn’t change the fact that a wound has occurred.


This first movement on the Journey of Forgiveness, the Offense, is all about recognizing and naming the offense that created the originating wound that needs to be healed.



Preparation: Courageous Honesty


As we move closer toward forgives and freedom in our lives, the next section of the journey is about being fully prepared to actually forgive, and it involves a lot of courageous honesty.


  • It begins with digging into the wound and being fully honest about how deeply we have been hurt and the exact nature of the offense from the originator. To do this well we really need a space that is very safe, and we may need some professional assistance in the process, but when we are ready and have the room to do it, we must be honest about the wound.


  • As I continue to prepare, what I also must be honest about is who is actually going to find freedom through this journey, and that’s me, the person who has been wounded. I am the one who needs to heal and find freedom through forgiveness, which isn’t dependent on the offender in any way.


  • However, it is important to recognize that when I am ready to forgive my offender, that does not mean I am also giving them absolution or removing the consequences that may come with their actions. In other words, real freedom through forgiveness doesn’t say to my offender, “what you did was ok” (absolution), nor does it say, “and you don’t have to face the consequences (boundaries) of your choices.”


  • As I begin to get honest about what forgiveness involves and doesn’t involve, what starts to emerge is a picture or vision of imagining a healthy life beyond forgiveness. This is when we look forward and can actually begin to see what real freedom might look like. And when we do, it becomes an invitation to actually being ready to act on forgiveness.

This second movement on the Journey of Forgiveness, Preparation, requires my willingness to be courageously honest about what forgiveness and freedom will and won’t mean moving forward.



The Release: Unlocking Yourself


Having travelled the journey to this point, and fully immersed myself in the preparation process, I am now ready to actually forgive. That is what this third movement, The Release, is all about.


  • Choosing to let go. This is the moment of actual decision we must make with our will - to let go and release the actual offense. It isn’t about letting go of the offender or ignoring the wound, but is about letting go of the actual wounding.


  • As we make this choice, sometimes engaging in some type of tangible action may be helpful and necessary for us to actually let go. For example, we may need to write out a description of our wounding and then burn the papers, or maybe we need to release a balloon into the air.

  • Sometimes the action of release may involve telling the offending party we forgive them. If we want to make this a part of our choice, we need to remember their reaction isn’t what’s important or even necessary, because we are the one finding freedom through this release.

  • Another tool that is important in letting go and unlocking ourselves is also in our ability to tap into our support networks. This may involve asking people to accompany us as we take the action steps of release. It may also involve relying on our religious or faith practices that are stabilizing to us in our lives.


This third movement on the Journey of Forgiveness, The Release, includes the moment of decision when I actually let go of the offense and in the process, unlock myself.



Affirmation: Ongoing Movement

Once I have actually made the decision to let go and embrace forgiveness and freedom, the journey is not over, but continues with the ongoing life of affirmation and forward movement - learning to live into the fullness and freedom that my forgiveness brings.

  • One of the reasons this is important to recognize, is because I may have to face the wound again, including facing my offender again. It may be that we will continue to have contact, or I may still have at the very least, the memories of the offense that will come back around.

  • Whenever I am confronted with either the real pain or the memory of the pain of my wound, I may be tempted to pick the grudge back up again. Sometimes this can happen because it was more “comfortable” to still carry it around, or at least it’s more familiar to me than the freedom I am learning to live into. When this happens, it will be important to revisit and perhaps even re-release the offense again.

  • As I continue to travel this journey of forgiveness, having actually released and chosen forgiveness, it is also highly critical that I now maintain healthy boundaries. This connects back to the points during the Preparation when I was recognizing forgiveness isn’t about absolution or removing consequences for the offender, as well as living into the healthy view of freedom I envisioned back then.

  • This is also where my support network can be a critical piece in my journey, because they can help me keep a good perspective on where I am, what this life of freedom looks like, and even point out when I may be picking the offense back up again. Whether it’s the healthy people in my life or the spiritual system I live in, those support networks help me to keep affirming my life of forgiveness and freedom.

This fourth movement on the Journey of Forgiveness, Affirmation, involves the process of revisiting my decision to let go of the offense, making sure I don’t pick it back up again.



The Journey of Forgiveness

Rather than approaching forgiveness as a single moment in time or a state we are either in or not, I believe it is more accurate (and healthy) to recognize that forgiveness is a lifetime journey. As we move through it toward a deeper reality of freedom in our lives, we encounter the four movements or sections that make up this journey:

The Offense: The Originating Wound

Preparation: Courageous Honesty

The Release: Unlocking Yourself

Affirmation: Ongoing Movement

Traveling this pathway isn’t a cure-all for everything that needs to be healed in our lives, but it is a significant part of the overall journey into freedom that must be taken if we are to find and live into the wholeness we all seek.

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