The Fourfold Path of Forgiveness

I’ve been discussing The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu in a book study the past two weeks and pondering its Fourfold Path: Telling the Story, Naming the Hurt, Extending Forgiveness, Renewing or Releasing the Relationship. As a result, I’ve thought more about the word “witness” that I mentioned in my September 10 self-worth post

A close friend introduced me to this word, and then I passed it onto you, and then on to my book study. It impacted me that much. Witnessing someone (not to someone), means to affirm, as in seeing, hearing, and valuing them. It requires that we listen and empathize. We all need to be witnessed. We all need to witness others. And we all need to learn to witness ourselves. Witnessing feeds self-worth. This is a key principle in the forgiveness process. 

To explore this further, I highlighted excerpts from each Fourfold step that spoke to me, with a few of my thoughts in parenthesis. Maybe some of the passages will speak to you too. 

One: Telling the Story

“Families must find shared stories of their experiences, or everyone is left to their private pain and each member of the family feels alone and isolated. This happens whenever there is a crisis or cruelty, and calls for meaning to be made.” p. 69-70

“It is not the trauma itself that defines us. It is the meaning we make of our experiences that defines both who we are and who we ultimately become.” p. 70

“Telling the story is how we get our dignity back after we have been harmed. It is how we begin to take back what was taken from us, and how we begin to understand and make meaning out of our hurting.” p. 71

“There is the risk of being hurt again, of not being believed, of not being affirmed. But when we lock our stories inside us, the initial injury is often compounded. If I tuck my secrets and my stories away in shame or fear or silence, then I am bound to my victimhood and my trauma.” p. 78

(This is not to say we share our stories everywhere and with anyone. We must first consider intention and trust.) 

Two: Naming the Hurt

“We give voice to our hurts not to be victims or martyrs, but to find freedom from the resentment, anger, shame, or self-loathing that can fester and build inside us when we do not touch our pain and learn to forgive.” p. 96 

“And a harm felt but denied will always find a way to express itself. When I bury my hurt in shame or silence, it begins to fester from the inside out. I feel the pain more acutely, and I suffer even more because of it.” p. 96

“We can call out for help when someone is attacking us physically, but what aid do we need when the attack is emotional, when we feel ignored or rejected or slighted?” p. 99 

“When we name our hurts, we have moved out of the stage of denial.” p. 102

“People need space to be weak and vulnerable for a time before they can become strong.” p. 105

How to acknowledge someone’s harm, p. 108:

  • Listen
  • Do not try to fix the pain.
  • Do not minimize the loss.
  • Do not offer advice.
  • Do not respond with your own loss or grief.
  • Keep confidentiality.
  • Offer your love and your caring.
  • Empathize and offer comfort. 

(I believe acknowledging someone’s harm is a form of witnessing.)

Three: Extending Forgiveness

“Raising children has sometimes felt like training for a forgiveness marathon.” p. 120 (Amen to that!)

“A victim is in a position of weakness and subject to the whims of others. Heroes are people who determine their own fate and their own future.” p. 121

“A human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love, and so much more. We want to divide the good from the bad, the saints from the sinners, but we cannot. All of us share the core qualities of our human nature, and so sometimes we are generous and sometimes selfish. Sometimes we are thoughtful and other times thoughtless, sometimes we are kind and sometimes cruel. This is not a belief. This is a fact.” p. 125 (Also called common humanity.)

“In fairness, I must caution that many people, even very spiritual people, try to leap over their suffering in pursuit of their inner peace or their sense of what is the right thing to do.” p. 128

“In writing this book, we consulted with many of the leading experts on forgiveness around the world, men and women who have devoted their lives to helping people heal and to studying the forgiveness process. Every one of them said how important it is to be able to tell a new story and how this ability is a sign of healing and wholeness.” p. 133

“The guarantee in life is that we will suffer. What is not guaranteed is how we will respond, whether we will let the suffering embitter us or ennoble us. This is our choice. How do we allow our suffering to ennoble us? We make meaning out of it and make it matter. We use our experiences as many of the people in this book have used theirs: to make ourselves into richer, deeper, more empathic people.” p. 134

“Growth happens through obstacles and only with resistance.” p. 138 (If only life were easier.)

“We must choose forgiveness over and over again, and cultivate it as a quality of our character.” p. 139

Four: Renewing or Releasing the Relationship

“Renewing a relationship is not restoring a relationship. We do not go back to where we were before the hurt happens and pretend it never happened.” p. 155

“Releasing is refusing to let an experience or a person occupy space in your head or heart any longer. It is releasing not only the relationship but your old story of the relationship.” p. 155

“We don’t complete this last step—or any step in the Fourfold Path—from our heads, but rather from our hearts. And it can take time to know what’s truly in our hearts.” p. 156

“Renew your relationships when you can and release them when you can’t. When we practice this last step of the Fourfold Path, we keep anger, resentment, hatred, and despair from ever having the last word.” p. 157

Call to Action

Witness someone by acknowledging their hurt/harm by practicing the bulleted points under the second step: Naming the Hurt.

Walk the Fourfold Path.

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