Friday, June 1, 2007

The Forgiveness Train

"Forgiveness is the final form of love."--Reinhold Niebuhr

I've been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately. The topic seems to come up a lot in the conversations I have with clients, parents--really anyone who's old enough to have significant relationships with other people. Over the course of these conversations, a metaphor for forgiveness appeared in my mind. When I try to make a visual picture of forgiveness I see a train--a toy train, to be exact where the cars connect through magnets. The locomotive--the train's beginning--is one's self. Forgiveness of others, I think, can only happen once we learn to forgive ourselves for past mistakes, regrets, and unhappinesses. Before any cars can be added to the train, the locomotive must be strong enough to first power itself. Once the forgiveness engine can power itself, that strength can be extended to others. Here's where the magnets come in. I see this attraction quality to forgiveness. With each act of forgiveness, another car is added to the train. Each car attracts yet another car, and soon, all the cars are drawn into this seemingly endless line of cars, driven by one small but powerful engine: self-forgiveness. In the months (and maybe even years!) to come, I hope to research acts of forgiveness (of one's self and others) and be able to report back my findings. Please feel free to share your stories of courageous acts of forgiveness.


Jennifer said...


I love the imagery and the idea of a toy metaphor, since that takes us back to our childhood, where it all began.

Another friend once defined forgiveness to me as "releasing another from expectations". As if perhaps we're measuring someone against a standard or a fixed idea that needs to be taken apart. Not sure how well that would translate to a clinical setting, but it's worked for me!

Shannon said...

I think "releasing another from expectations" dovetails nicely with that old therapeutic notion of "you can't change others, you can only change yourself." In forgiving someone, you accept someone as they are, while allowing yourself to move on and grow. When I hear the phrase "carry a grudge," my mind imagines a person hunched over under a heavy knapsack of "grudges". With each act of forgiveness, the knapsack is lightened a little bit, until the person can walk free and tall again. I think forgiveness gives us a lightness in our minds and bodies that few other acts offer. The paradox of forgiveness is that, on the face of it, it seems completely unselfish; yet, I think it has as many benefits for the giver as the receiver.