Preemptive Forgiveness

During our weekly mid-week Lenten service, we read a chapter from the book “The Sacred Art of Forgiveness.” It’s a great book with short chapters that lend themselves to powerful conversations. The chapter we read from last evening was about telling your story. It told the story of a man who suffered great loss, but because he read someone’s story of great loss and still went on, it changed him – literally saved his life. And the author went on to talk about the idea of preemptive forgiveness.

Preemptive forgiveness is about deciding in advance how you are going to forgive people before they have even done anything. People have used this when they know they are going to be in a terrible situation – it’s what allows them to not be eaten up inside with anger and hatred.

So it prompted a question for me – How can I preemptively forgive? What would I need to preemptively forgive someone for? Who might be someone I need to preemptively forgive?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but they have me thinking about them. In a world that is uncertain, I think there is plenty of opportunity to preemptively forgive.

Preemptively forgiving doesn’t mean you just brush off whatever will happen. It doesn’t mean you excuse it either. It means you look at the situation and the person differently. Maybe even with compassion. I’ve seen this and try to practice it myself when I read the news lately. I read about something that someone said or did and I try to have compassion. Again, I don’t read what is going on with the idea of giving excuses for what happens, but rather see the person doing whatever they are doing as someone who is trapped and doesn’t see how they can live differently.

I do this most often when I read articles on politics. When certain politicians do things or say things that scapegoat or blame, when they pass laws or implement policies that clearly advantage certain groups or make life harder for others, when they offer rhetoric that reaches down to our fears and hatred, then all I can do is look at these things and say “of course that’s what they would do/say.” I am not shocked by these folks, they are merely acting in accordance with their core beliefs. In many ways what they say and do is predictable. That also takes away the anger for me. None of these things are shocking – you have to be surprised in order to be shocked. When someone acts in predictable ways, it isn’t shocking. It’s confirmation of what was already known about the person. And that’s what makes it easier to let go of the anger. That’s not excusing behavior or rhetoric, it’s accepting reality. It’s allowing me to see clearly who people are. And it allows me to determine how I will act and what I will say – not allowing predictable people to determine my mood or what I say or do.

What does preemptive forgiveness mean for you?

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