Forgiveness is an important concept in the Judeo-Christian ethos. Much of the impetus of those religions is gaining God’s forgiveness for sins committed by the human being. The Wiccan/neo-Pagan ethos does not generally subscribe to this concept. Nor do we subscribe to the concepts of hell or sin. I do not need my Gods’ forgiveness; as a result I am responsible for my behavior and my life. There is no magickal absolution. I am responsible for all of it, good or bad. But that does not mean that the concept of forgiveness should not be a part of our culture.
In the Judeo-Christian ethos, the concept of forgiveness does not apply only to the human’s relationship with God but, to the relationships between human beings. And this is where we could benefit from embracing the concept of forgiveness.
There are times when forgiveness is inappropriate, specifically when it results in the enabling of habitual abuse. There are times when someone’s habitual behavior is toxic and we should not allow them to continue to affect our lives.
There are times when our own choices about our lives will make others that we love unhappy. We are responsible for our own happiness, for living with integrity, for following our own truth and sometimes that is in conflict with the desires of others in our lives. We do not need forgiveness for those choices. We do not need forgiveness for being true to who we are.
Just as I do not need forgiveness for making choices about my own life, for choosing to follow my own heart rather than comply with another’s desires, so too must I acknowledge that others have the right and duty to live with integrity and that I should not berate them for doing so, even when I have had other hopes, expectations, desires. They are not responsible to live as I would want. They are not responsible for my happiness, but for their own.
We do not always behave as our highest selves would dictate however. Sometimes we fall short and we forget ourselves and we react from a place of anger or frustration instead of responding from a place of love. A friend reached out to me yesterday and instead of listening and offering support and sympathy, I reacted from my own hurt and frustration. I ranted instead of listening with compassion. I was not a good friend in that moment.
I was angry with my behavior when I returned to myself. I asked that friend to forgive my selfish behavior, and they have. Because our friendship is important to both of us, because I am a good friend most of the time. That friend has needed my forgiveness sometimes too. We generally do not require an apology or a request for forgiveness from the other. We make allowances for the fact that as human beings our own needs occasionally collide with the other’s moments of frustration.
It is always healing to the relationship if the one who behaved selfishly can acknowledge their lapse; it is always easier to forgive those we love when they ask us to. Telling those we love that we indeed regret causing them pain, that we wished we had behaved differently, that we think that they deserved to be heard and that we do indeed want to be there for them, that they are valuable, is especially important because we all sometimes behave in ways that say the opposite.
It is also healing to ourselves to ask for forgiveness rather that indulging in self-berating thoughts. Forgiving myself for poor behavior is easier when I have asked forgiveness from those I have let down. That does not mean that I can habitually behave in that way, it means that I move forward and try to learn from it and try to react less and respond more.
This is true to all relationships; family, friends, coven, community, allies. Even in relationships that are not based upon love. Even towards people with whom I work or interact in the mundane world, I will occasionally behave rudely; I will sometimes be short with someone, reacting with impatience and frustration rather than respect and appreciation. This is just bad manners.
I believe that good manners are indispensable to the civility required to live peacefully with others in a society. And I believe that honor requires that I apologize for such behavior immediately. My own bad mood is not an excuse to be rude or disrespectful towards another, no matter the relationship, or lack of one. I have yet to meet a stranger who is not immediately willing to forgive when asked.
It is crucial to my commitment to living a life of honor that I not lose sight of this concept and that I apply it to my relationships and interactions with those closest to me and with those with whom I interact every day.