The Hardest Love


I’ve been devastatingly hurt by someone I trusted completely.

Who hasn’t?

This is why, with St. Valentine’s Day coming up tomorrow, I’m writing about a different manifestation of love that we don’t talk about very much because it’s the hardest love—forgiveness. 

Every world religion or philosophy encourages forgiveness, from Confucianism to Wicca.

But most of us don’t recognize forgiveness as an act of love. Or we don’t buy it. Or we make our forgiveness contingent on our betrayer’s remorse.

I use the word betray intentionally. To betray is to act in the interest of the enemy.

French philosopher Jacques Derrida suggests that the more unforgivable the act, the greater the call to forgive.

Philosopher Lucy Allais of the University of California, says that when someone does us wrong, our perception of that person is altered for the worse, usually irrevocably. We judge that the person has failed us dramatically, and we feel deep—and justifiable—resentment. 

Sometimes we excuse, justify or accept the betrayal, which amounts to saying there is really nothing to forgive, that it “wasn’t your fault.” This is not forgiveness, Dr. Allais says.

Nor is saying, “I forgive but I won’t forget.” This is an admission that our love has strings attached, that I will love you only if you are deserving. This kind of faux forgiveness condemns us to seeing our hurt and resentment return again and again.

Wholehearted forgiveness requires that we overcome the resentment we’re entitled to and see the person the way we did prior to their wrong-doing.

We’re not required to forgive. It’s discretionary. It’s a decision. But feelings and emotions can’t be changed by a simple act of will, especially when our instincts are raging for revenge.

So why even attempt it?

“An eye for an eye, and the whole world would be blind,” Kahlil Gibran reminds us.

Nor is forgiveness meant to be therapy for the forgiver, despite what we hear about resentment being as destructive as holding a burning coal in our hand.

Rather, when we forgive, we enlarge our hearts.

How? Because we are bestowing on our betrayer more than their due, more than their actions warrant—whether they express remorse or not. And this can be immensely empowering to one who forgives.

My own motivation to forgive can be found in words written by author Elizabeth Lowell:

“I'm not perfect. Remember that, and try to forgive me when I fail you.”

Or Mother Teresa’s:

“Self-knowledge sends us to our knees.”

Maybe this is what Pope Francis meant with his famous:

“Who am I to judge?”

The ancient Greeks coined four words for love: storge, the affection we have for family members; philia, the bond between friends; eros, the desire for physical union; and agape, our unselfish willingness to sacrifice for the sake of another.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr picked up where they left off and defined forgiveness as "the final form of love."

It's the form of love the Greeks failed to name.


Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon:

Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.

And my weekly reflection on each Sunday of the Jubilee Year of Mercy can be found at:

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