The RISK of Forgiveness

By Lydia Davey, Spirit & Place Festival Intern

I thought I understood risk when, as a 23-year-old Marine, I volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan. I felt certain that I knew the meaning of the word when I climbed into a HMMWV turret to serve as a gunner during a series of convoys. My heart pounded so hard I could feel it in my brain. My hands trembled.  My mouth was full of dust and my eyes never stopped scanning everything.

“The uncertain endeavor of extending forgiveness to others is perhaps an even greater risk than donning body armor, loading your weapons, and mounting up to hunt the enemy.”

Convoy ops. - Lydia Davey

Convoy ops. – Lydia Davey

But during this past year, I’ve come to understand risk differently.

The uncertain endeavor of extending forgiveness to others is perhaps an even greater risk than donning body armor, loading your weapons, and mounting up to hunt the enemy.

Forgiveness, as I understand it, means forgiving not only the act that offended you, but everything that the act has meant in your life. It means making a verbal contract with the other person to not bring their failure up to them, to yourself, or to others if at all possible in the future. It means expressing your expectations and hopes – however large or small – for your future interactions with that person. Forgiveness can seem as impossible and heart pounding and hand trembling as anything you’ve ever done.

Forgiveness is scary because when you extend it, you honestly acknowledge the power another person has to impact your life and your heart. It’s risky because in the wake of that acknowledgement, you essentially make yourself vulnerable again – you’re no longer the owner of the debt they owed you.

“The other side of forgiveness is a beautiful thing. It is freedom. It is the deepest breath you’ll ever take and the most satisfied exhalation you’ll ever know.”

Lydia celebrates in Spain

Lydia celebrates in Spain

Certainly, there is a place for healthy boundaries and wise choices as you forgive. Forgiveness is not blind trust. It is not the acceptance of evil. Instead, it is an honest assessment followed by a contractual release followed by hope. Oh yes, it’s risky.

But the other side of forgiveness is a beautiful thing. It is freedom. It is the deepest breath you’ll ever take and the most satisfied exhalation you’ll ever know. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to forget the grief and pain of hurt, but it does enable you to look back on those aspects of your story with peace; you are gazing at a closed wound. Forgiveness is transformative – maybe not right away, but eventually, as you live it out, it will change your life and the lives of those you extend it to.

What experience of forgiveness has been the most powerful in your life? Was it significant because you gave it or received it? I’d love to hear your story!

Lydia Davey is a Marine Corps veteran, a freelance writer, and the owner of Moriah Creatives – a communications consulting firm. She loves snowshoeing, coffee, cold-weather camping, and promoting ideas that bring life, color, justice and creativity to the world.

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5 thoughts on “The RISK of Forgiveness

  1. You have summed up my struggle beautifully. The ownership of the debt. The fear of vulnerability. In my head, I know the transformation that awaits if I can find my way to forgiving. It’s my heart that is scared and rendered immovable by fear.

  2. I love that you’re able to recognize what waits for you on the other side – that’s good! I walked through the most significant act of forgiveness in my life last year, and it was physically and emotionally taxing. I sweated and cried and curled up in a chair just thinking about it, and I had another person with me when I extended forgiveness to the one who hurt me. I felt like a scared kid again – not the powerful woman I thought I’d become. Sometimes, it’s not a specific act that you have to forgive, it’s who a person IS. That can be so much more vulnerable, because you have to acknowledge that your forgiveness might not change the situation.

    It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we hold onto what the other person owes us because we think it might make a difference. But their lives tell us that even their indebtedness to us (aren’t we good enough?) isn’t enough to alter their behavior. Admitting this is so painful because we essentially remove ourselves from the position of determined game changer, and move into a role that feels less powerful, but is actually more in touch with reality. Our expectations change when we forgive, even if the situation doesn’t, and that allows us to handle reoccurring events with a special kind of grace.

    I want to encourage you to go to battle with fear for the sake of your heart. Step into this. Risk it. It will be painful and strange, but oh so worth it.

  3. Lydia. This is truly amazing and beautiful. We all have experiences in our lives, large and small that we carry with us that we need to be released. Thank you for verbalizing the gift that awaits when we let them go.

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