Forgiveness is a Choice – In the Moment or After the Fact

This post is an excerpt my upcoming Kindle and e-book, tentatively titled The Forgiveness Handbook – Simple Answers to Ten Common Questions to Help You Experience More Forgiveness and Freedom in Your Life.  Please read on and let me know what you think. 

Many people seem to have the idea that they want to forgive or that they need to forgive, but they don’t really know how to go about doing it.  The first thing to be aware of in this regard is that forgiveness is a choice.  Before anything else can happen, you must decide that you want to or that you’re going to forgive.  I’ve also seen in others and learned from my own experience, that forgiveness often requires a commitment.  In some situations it can take committing yourself to embarking on a process or journey of forgiveness.  Whether forgiveness happens quickly, or it’s something that requires a longer journey or process, usually depends on what kind of issue or experience you’re working through.

Forgiving Minor Events in the Moment

Many times forgiveness can be done right in the moment as an event occurs or as soon as you realize that there’s something to forgive.  For example, as I was driving on the freeway the other day, someone was about to miss his exit so he suddenly veered across three lanes of traffic to get to the off ramp.  As he did, he cut me off and scared me half to death, triggering an immediate physical reaction of anger and fear in my body.  But rather than get caught in the upset, hold onto the anger, blame and judge the guy and create a big internal drama about it, I made a choice to forgive.  I took a deep breath to calm my body and I told myself, “that guy didn’t really see me, it wasn’t personal and I don’t need to make it mean anything.”  Then I forgave him for being somewhat careless, forgave myself for feeling so shocked and angry and let it go.  In forgiving and letting go, I didn’t have to carry all the feelings, upset and resentment with me for the rest of the afternoon.

Now think about a time that something like this happened to you.  Perhaps you had a big emotional response triggered by some little incident that occurred.  Maybe you held onto it and fed it with negative thoughts and judgments, and so it stayed with you.  It likely ruined a portion of your day by putting a big, dark cloud on it and robbing you of any joy, fun or other good feelings.  Then you might have even complained about the now big incident to someone else, making it an even larger deal and dragging them into the morass of negativity with you.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  In any moment with those kinds of little incidents you can simply choose to forgive and move on.

Forgiving After the Fact

Forgiveness can also be done at some point later, after an incident occurs.  Many times while you’re in the middle of an experience, you may not even recognize or understand that you’re in a situation that will hurt you or leave you feeling upset as a result.  Then later you realize that something hurtful has happened and you feel bad about it.  In the recognition that you feel bad, you also have to opportunity to realize that there’s something you need to digest and forgive.  In these situations forgiveness again starts with you making a conscious choice.  Once you make the decision to forgive, you can use whatever specific technique works for you.  However I suggest that you always look for something that you can learn from the situation, or find some way in which you ultimately can benefit or that you have benefited from it.

For example in college I worked part-time in a little gas station not far from campus.  It was the late 1970’s and I was still young and relatively naive.  One Saturday afternoon a guy came into the station, told me he was a friend of the manager and fast-talked me out of $40 from the cash register as a ‘loan’.  In exchange he offered some collateral – a fancy looking, but ultimately worthless watch.  Not long after he left, it occurred to me that I’d been conned.  The guy wasn’t a friend of the manager and he wasn’t coming back. I first got angry at the guy and the situation, then I got angry at myself.  I felt like a fool and was so embarrassed that I never told the station manager about my mistaken trust in this guy’s story.  Instead I paid the money back from my own pocket – even though as a struggling student I couldn’t really afford to do so. I carried the shame and judgment of that one around with me for a long time.  I was so ashamed of having been so easily hoodwinked, that I never told anyone about it.

Then several years later someone tried to con me again – this time for a much bigger sum of money.  But guess what?  Due to my earlier experience I was aware of the real intent of the fast-talking guy.  I didn’t go for his swindling story  and thus saved myself some real financial pain. I had learned from the situation at the gas station to spot those kinds of scams.  The guy back in college had given me a $40 lesson in how to not get conned and I continue to benefit from that relatively small investment to this day.

Once I recognized what a valuable lesson that event gave me, I was able to easily forgive myself, forgive the guy who conned me, and actually feel grateful for the experience.  The key to forgiveness in this situation came in seeing the benefit of the incident and understanding how it had helped me learn and grow as a person.  A small hurt then, had helped save me from a much larger pain later, and I was grateful for it.


Thanks for reading.  As always I welcome your feedback, comments and questions.  The e-book I’ve excerpted this from is a re-working and expansion of the recent Forgiveness FAQ’s video series you’ll find elsewhere on this website.  I’m particularly interested in feedback on the e-book title.  Once again it’s tentatively titled,
The Forgiveness Handbook, with the subtitle, Simple Answers to Ten Common Questions to Help You Experience More Forgiveness and Freedom in Your Life. Please let me know what you think in the “Leave a Reply” box just below.  Also, be sure to join “The Forgiveness Club“, using the form in the right hand side bar, and I’ll give you advance notice of the short time period when you can go and claim a free copy of the Kindle version of the book, just after its release.

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