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Forgiveness – Part II Cultivating Forgiveness

Last month’s column discussed forgiveness in a general way – while this month’s will provide specific tools for cultivating forgiveness, and will also present suggested inventory for helping with forgiveness.

If you missed last month’s column, you might want to read it first, and if you did read it, you might want to review it prior to looking at the tools in this column. You can access it here.

Sometimes “Easier”

A few years back, I sent out this e-mail to my sponsees:

Dear Family,

At a meeting last night, I heard a father speak of how he was forced to quickly learn to reach for forgiveness and love after his younger (19 year old) “bad seed” son murdered his older (28 year old) “good seed” son for no apparent reason. And, the 19 year old son is now in Louisiana, awaiting sentencing for murder, and apparently without remorse (since first writing this, the 19-year old son was sentenced to 80 years at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana). There is so much room for compassion in this story, because the suffering is profound.

It took me back to one of my early teachings in our program, and that is that it is easy to love the lovable, but our job is to learn to love the unlovable. It also touches on Traditions 3 and 5. Tradition 5 instructs me to “carry the message” [to the suffering], and our message is love and tolerance – [mercy and compassion], and sometimes the one who is suffering is me. Tradition 3 asks me to surrender being conditional.

It is a big order to ask someone – let alone the father of a murdered child – to reach for love and tolerance and forgiveness. In this case, the reaching for love and forgiveness on the part of the father was made slightly less difficult (I am unable to use the word “easier” about this situation), and perhaps more necessary, because the murderer is his only surviving son.

Two thoughts come to mind:

1)   I am friends with the warden at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana, where there is an active death chamber. I have stood, side by side, with that warden in that very death chamber, and he told me that with each execution, he is not only present, but holds the hand of the prisoner being executed and tells that prisoner that he is loved & he is not alone. The love does not prevent the warden from carrying out the court’s mandated consequences for the prisoner’s behavior, but the love does allow him to make certain that the prisoner does not die alone, and dies knowing that he is loved. I guess you might say that the warden is clearly living what many of you have heard me say: “God has no grandkids – only kids, and God doesn’t make junk.”

2)   I have lived part of my life having no forgiveness for others – or myself – and behaving unforgivably. I am so grateful that today I have:

  • A different way to live
  • A Fellowship that role models forgiveness for me
  • A 9th Step that teaches me how to forgive myself and others
  • A 5th Tradition that instructs me to reach for love & tolerance and mercy & compassion
  • A God that forgives me
  • A God that is a co-sufferer
  • A God that “has no grandkids – only kids, and doesn’t make junk”

As always, in love & service – Jay

Sometimes Harder

The story above, speaks of a man who had little choice about forgiveness, unless he was willing to lose the only living child of his two children. And so, he made the choice to forgive, and to walk through life carrying his grief and bewilderment.

For all of us, forgiveness is simply a choice. Last month’s column spoke about why we make that choice, for whom we make that choice, the barriers to making that choice, and the consequences of not making that choice. Sometimes, doing the work on the following Forgiveness Inventory I’ve created, helps us in that decision and moves us towards a more forgiving stance.

Forgiveness Inventory/Worksheet (For forgiveness of self or others)

by G. Jay Westbrook, M.S., R.N.

1)   Is there a different way for me to tell my story, a way in which:

-at the least, I am not a victim, and at the most, I am a hero?


a)   “My parents hated me, were cruel to me, and ruined my life.”

Can be changed to any one of these:

  • “My folks were not very skilled at parenting, but they did the best they could.”
  • “I am one of the many kids who had a rotten childhood, but today I’m okay.”
  • “My folks were terrible parents, but today I have the opportunity to parent myself.”

b)   “My uncles raped & savaged me as a kid, left me broken and destroyed my life.”

Can be changed to any one of these:

  • “My incest ruined my childhood, but ultimately became my vehicle for awakening compassion – in me, for me, and for others.”
  • “I survived my childhood incest, and have been able to use the experience to provide hope and help to other survivors.”
  • “There is no excuse for what was done to me as a child, but I do know that while not all victims become perpetrators, all perpetrators have been victims, and so I can reach for compassion for my perpetrators – knowing that at one point they were victimized in the same way I was.”

c)   “I wasted seven years of my life with that loser husband of mine, who was afraid of intimacy while we were together, and now just bad mouths me to all our friends.”

Can be changed to any one of these:

  • “I chose a really exciting but very immature guy to marry, and ignored all the warning signs and my friends’ advice. Next time I’ll choose far more carefully.”
  • “I get to move on with my life, but am saddened that the guy I cared enough about to marry is stuck in the past, unwilling to utilize any tools to heal, and will probably end up a very lonely and bitter old man.”
  • “I have honored my sadness over the breakup of my marriage, but life is short and I am living it. Not only are there so many quality men out there, but so many friends and wonderful opportunities to cultivate my God-given skills and to be of service.”

d)   “My baby is dying – I know God hates me and is abandoning & punishing me – why else would he take my baby?”

Can be changed to any one of these:

  • “I know it’s the heart defect that is taking my baby’s life, and I am so grateful that God will be there to receive him.”
  • “I’m so grateful I have this moment, this hour, this day to love & hold my baby.”
  • “I am so blessed to have a God who may not be able to alter what is happening to my baby, but who is a Co-Sufferer – who weeps with me over the impending death of my child, but who will be there to receive and love my child in Heaven.”

Writing Assignment:

1) Provide three other ways to tell your specific story – three ways to reframe your story – in a way that paints you, at least, as less of a victim and, at most, as a hero.

2) Answer these questions:

    • Have you ever needed forgiveness, and received it?

      How did that feel?

      What were the outcomes of receiving that forgiveness?


    • Have you ever needed forgiveness, and not received it?

      How did that feel?

      What were the outcomes of not receiving that forgiveness?


    • Have you ever been asked for your forgiveness, and given it?

      How did that feel?

      What were the outcomes of offering that forgiveness?


    • Have you ever been asked for your forgiveness, and not given it?

      How did that feel?

      What were the outcomes of withholding that forgiveness?


  • In the specific situation with which you are struggling, and have not yet been willing or able to reach for forgiveness (for self and/or others)

    What are you gaining by holding on to the hate, resentment, and unforgiving stance, i.e., what are the payoffs?

    What are you losing by holding on to the hate, resentment, and unforgiving stance, i.e., what are the consequences?

    What might your life look like – how would it change – if you reached for forgiveness in this specific situation?

    If the person you have not yet forgiven were to die today, and you were asked to deliver their eulogy, what would you say about them, about your relationship with them, and about your feelings over not having forgiven them?


  • Pray: “Dear God, please do NOT remove this person [situation] from my life until I have learned what he [it] is here to teach me.”
  • Write about my motives in holding onto the resentment, hate, and unforgiving stance, e.g., feeling superior or better than or more spiritual, etc. than him/her
  • Write about looking at their behavior and searching to see where I have the capacity for the same behavior I resent and am unwilling to forgive, perhaps just expressed differently
  • Remember “Acceptance is not Approval” (Yea Al-Anon)
  • Use the first paragraph on page 67 of the Big Book:

    “Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We ask God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, ‘This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.'”

  • Write about the freedom that might flow from opening, softening, deepening, and cultivating forgiveness

Practice Forgiveness – first for self, then for all in your position, then for the person you resent.


I hope this two-part column has given you a new way to vision forgiveness, to think about it, and perhaps, to even find the willingness and courage to consider moving forward in your life with greater forgiveness, of self and others.

I welcome your comments.

Image Courtesy of ShutterStock

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