Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Some thoughts on forgiveness and the deliciousness of unforgiveness

My take on forgiveness has been very strongly affected by my understanding of what happened to my mother. She was verbally, physically, and sexually abused by her father throughout her childhood. The man was a monster. She left home at 18 and had little to do with him for 30 years. Then in 2005, when he was dying alone, she chose to become caretaker for him, and invited him into her home to live.

He had never so much as admitted to much less apologised for his behaviour. Although he was too frail to be physically abusive, he continued to be verbally abusive to her while living in her home. He lived there for less than a year before being moved into a care facility. It was during/immediately after this time that my mum got cancer, of which she died 3 years later in June 2008.

It makes sense to me that my mum invited her terrifying childhood monster to live in her home and then got cancer. These things are connected in my mind.

Why did she do it?  Her Christianity told her that he was destined for hell, that it was her duty to forgive him and love him and she believed that indeed her love in the face of his monstrosity might be the only thing that could reach him and help him change and thus avoid Hell. I know this because she told me herself.

I loved my mother to bits, and am profoundly grateful for her. Please read my eulogy for her here if you want to read more about that. And I think that the take on forgiveness illustrated by this story is completely and utterly fucked up.

However, I grew up in the same religious community in which my mother grew up, and I used to believe similarly. That's why I say now that I find unforgiveness utterly delicious. If someone's behaviour and beliefs towards me are very unkind, then I don't have to be in relationship with them. I can gently more-or-less cull them from my life, making room for people whose behaviours and beliefs towards me are gracious, kind, loving, and empowering. I don't have to take any responsibility for the monsters. I'm quite happy for them to live their lives out being in community with other people, hopefully people who don't experience them as monstrous.


  1. I agree with this Benjamin. I think it is important to note that what you were taught about forgiveness was neither healthy nor Christian. I think it sad that your mom, an earnest, kindly woman, was so mis-taught as to comply with this awful, awful belief. I am heartened that, during her last year of life, she was able to strongly overcome that toxic paradigm, no small feat.

  2. I agree with the culling. I've done the same thing. Now, I don't know what kind of message your dear Mum learned about forgiveness. Honestly, I think it is more about the individual, and what forgiveness does to the individual. Although, I have family members that I don't know if I'll ever forgive, but I do know I want to stop my seething anger. I want to distance myself from them to the point that mention of them no longer digs at me. I don't know if I'll ever fully be able to do that though. I just know I do my best to let them go and see them as human and flawed as I am.

    On a side note, I didn't realize you lost your mother so close to me loosing my father, nor did I realize how much the loss of your mother and the starting of our friendship coincided. Loosing a one so dear sucks.