My Dear Ivy,
In my last letter I talked about giving generously, even as God has given generously to us. But there’s one specific piece of His gift that I want you to make a habit of passing on to others. It’s a gift far too few of us are willing to dispense these days – even those who are incredibly generous with their material possessions.
I want you to learn to forgive.
And I hope you’re willing to start with me. From the very first of these letters, I’ve shared with you some of the ways I’ve already messed up the whole “dad” thing, and some of the ways I will do so in the future. I hope you will forgive me. And I hope you will make a habit of forgiving others.
Here’s the thing: Unlike so many of these nuggets of advice throughout these letters, there’s really no way you can get this one wrong. It’s not really possible to be too forgiving. That’s just not a thing.
There will, no doubt, be people in your life who deserve your forgiveness – people who are genuinely regretful of the mistakes they’ve made toward you, and who are truly changing or trying to change, to avoid similar offenses in the future.
I hope you will forgive them, and give them the second chance they’re seeking.
And there will also be people in your life who don’t particularly deserve your forgiveness. There will be people who aren’t particularly regretful of the mistakes they make toward you, who aren’t all that interested in changing their ways, and who show every intention that they may do the same to you in the future, if given another opportunity.
And I hope you will forgive them, too, and give them that same second chance. And more, if necessary.
That’s not to say that you should let them continue to hurt you. That’s where those healthy boundaries come in, that we’ve talked about in previous letters. You may need to protect yourself by removing yourself from the relationship or taking certain steps so that those people who have hurt you aren’t in a position where they can do so again.
That’s not the same as withholding forgiveness . . . because forgiveness isn’t about them. It’s about you.
To explain what I mean, I need to do something I haven’t done yet in these letters – I need to talk a very little bit about political events. Right now, we are in the middle of a Presidential transition. As of now, the current President has lost his attempt to be re-elected and a new President is preparing to take office next month. One of the things a President has the power to do in our country – and one of the things a lot of Presidents do as one of their final acts in office, is to pardon people who have been found guilty of crimes. And for every President, some of the people who receive these pardons deserve it, for a variety of reasons, and some who do not.
The President’s pardon power means wiping out the conviction and restoring the person to full status as a law-abiding citizen. From a legal perspective, it’s like the conviction never happened. Certain rights that are lost by certain people convicted of certain crimes – like losing the right to vote or own a gun – are restored.
But there’s an important detail about the President’s pardon power. When you accept a Presidential pardon, from a legal perspective you are admitting that you are guilty of the crime. It’s not the guilt that is wiped out – just the consequences that typically come with that guilt.
This is how I want you to think about forgiveness. I want you to offer it, freely, because doing so will help you process and work through the pain of being hurt without letting that pain take hold and change you into someone you don’t want to be.
But after your forgiveness has been offered, it’s on the other person whether to accept your gift to them. It’s on them to see it as an opportunity to change and grow and restore the relationship – or not.
You are not obligated to treat them exactly the same as you did before the offense. You are not obligated to pretend that it never happened and that the profound effects some offenses may have had on your life don’t exist. You are not obligated to leave yourself open and unprotected from being hurt again.
All I ask is that you leave the door open to restoring the relationship. That is what forgiveness is: opening the door to a new relationship – one that may be different than the previous one because of what has happened between you, but which is stronger than what was before, because of what the two of you have done together to build it anew.
That’s what you’re offering when you choose to forgive. You’re opening the door. The other person can choose to walk through it, or not. You bear no responsibility for their choice – simply for the willingness to offer it to them.
Once again, this is simply extending to others the same gift that has been extended to you. And like the other sorts of gifts we talked about in the last letter, this one is a really good way to fill up someone’s bucket – and to fill up your own in the process. It’s the very same gift God gives to his creation to restore a severed relationship – the very same gift that is at the heart of that very first Christmas.
I love you.