Baby Steps of Forgiveness


[Guest Post by Catherine Hawkins – I always appreciate guest post authors who become regular readers and submit again. I always love watching a new friend grow, who is both willing and unashamed to share. May we learn to be as brave as Catherine!]

A woman from church once told me, when I was small and easily wounded, that “Christ has forgiven so much; we have no right not to forgive others.”

That weighed on me a long time, because no matter how hard I tried, forgiveness was elusive. I remembered slight after slight, and they seemed to build on each other until it seemed I was a walking wound.

As I grew up, went to college, and learned through various friendships–I learned that forgiveness was vital.

Soon, forgiving in a relationship wasn’t so hard for me anymore. A friend from my freshman year of college was adept at the plea for forgiveness:

I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I don’t even know why I did it.”

I had trained myself to forgive, time and time again.

It’s forgiving outside of a relationship that has become impossible. I still don’t know how to let go of relationships that once meant so much. How do you forgive someone who hasn’t even asked for it? Who, if given the choice, would do things exactly the same way again?

This is where mercy and justice get messy.

People say relationships are work, but when relationships end there is still a lot of work to do.

There are loving looks to accept and forget, hurtful words that you’ll probably always remember but that you need to learn to live with.When you are in a relationship–whether it be with a friend or a family member or a significant other–forgiveness is hard.

But at least there is someone on the other side, and that person is most likely praying desperately that you will forgive them and embrace them again with the old love.

But what do you do when that person doesn’t ask to be forgiven?

What do you do when you that person–wherever he or she is walking around in this world–doesn’t regret his or her actions? Even Christ demands repentance–demands to be asked for that forgiveness.

That stumped me for awhile.

I stared at this fact and felt helpless; how can I be demanded to forgive when the rules are so hard, and even Christ himself has prerequisites?

Until I remembered: I am not Christ. Jesus had no sins to be forgiven, only infinite forgiveness.

This was the only conclusion I could come to, the only thing that held hope before my eyes and helped me believe it was possible. Forgiveness doesn’t mean complete reconciliation, as though the grievance never occurred. It means the disentangling of yourself-and the guilty party–from a hurt that had become too big.

But all this philosophizing of forgiveness doesn’t change the heart overnight.

It’s not magic.

I prayed again, after months and months of avoiding the subject. I’d stopped praying, because prayer was admitting I hadn’t forgotten, I hadn’t forgiven, and I was the only one who hadn’t moved on.

I prayed that my heart would be changed, because I couldn’t change it myself.

Recently, I found a bundle of pictures, taken in the cold spring of 2009 on the streets of Newburyport, the beach of Plum Island, the cliffs of Ocean Lawn. I thought I’d thrown everything out, but here was a bunch of photos, with a younger, softer me smiling back. Instead of throwing them away immediately, I looked through each and every one. And I even smiled.

I was so different then.

Four years is a long time.

After I’d looked at them, I did throw them out. They’d served their purpose. And that night, I dreamed we were all in a car together, coming back from a wedding. I was wearing his socks, and he looked at me and said,

“Hey, I think you still have my socks.”

And instead of being sad or missing something that wasn’t real, in the dream I laughed.

I laughed and took the socks off, gave them to him over the seat. Maybe that doesn’t count as full forgiveness, but I’m happy with baby steps.

catherine hawkinsCatherine Hawkins is a lover of words, music, coffee, and sunlight. She recently found herself teaching Latin, and she hopes to keep doing so for a good long time. She writes about these and other things at

[Photo: LCPhotog, Creative Commons]