Jan’s Talk on Forgiveness

Mom & Jan in New Orleans at Cafe du Mond
Mom & Jan in New Orleans at Cafe du Mond

When I was asked to speak about forgiveness for today’s service, I said, “Sure!” thinking to myself “I’ve worked with that concept, that feeling, that idea. I’ve had to learn it before.” Of course, since those lessons were in the past, they have taken on a somewhat depersonalized air, and I can even feel a little sense of superiority in my ego mind. “I’ve learned to do that,” says I.

As I hung up the phone from that conversation, mom asked, “Who was that?” I told her it was Pam and she wanted me to speak for a few minutes on forgiveness on Sunday. “Oh!” she said eagerly. “Where did I put that paper? Our minister spoke about that recently.” My immediate reaction was, “Oh great! Now I’ll have to listen to the ‘right’ way to go about forgiving – or perhaps that I need forgiveness for my words, actions, sins.” Mom didn’t find that paper, but she did stare at me intently and say, “I hope you and your brother can forgive each other.”

Yes, well. I’ve been trying to work with that one myself over the past month or so.

Recently, my brother told me to call him if I want to give him updates, tell him something about mom’s health and well being, her needs, my concerns with her, etc., and not to use email. “My computer is for MY convenience,” he arrogantly stated. I informed him that email is for MY convenience and I really don’t care about his convenience. He doesn’t live here, he doesn’t go to the doctor with her, he doesn’t see her confusion by day, or have to call 911 by night when her sugar drops and she collapses. He doesn’t listen to be sure she is breathing at night – or even in the daytime when she naps, or watch her wobble about on unsteady feet, or worry about her – nor does he see fit to contribute financially in any way to her well being. Yet *I* should concern myself with his convenience. My anger and resentment reared up like a raging dragon and I slammed the phone down. Nostrils flaring, flames shooting out of my eyes, I stomped around the house and roared. “That jerk! Him and his holier than thou attitude, his “my way or the highway” almightiness. His Little Lord Fauntleroyness.

But who gets so upset?                                   Me.
And Whose stomach is in knots?                    Mine.
And Whose head aches from the anger?        Mine.
And Who is the one causing distress to the very atmosphere in our home?      Me.

Isn’t it interesting that the one most impacted by this anger, resentment, and hurt, this protectiveness toward mom – is me! And who do I hand over the controls to my life through this anger and resentment? To HIM! The very person with whom I am angry!

Internet sources define Forgiveness as follows.

  • compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive
  • the act of excusing a mistake or offense (wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn)
  • Forgiveness is the mental and/or spiritual process of ceasing to feel resentment, indignation or anger against another person for a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgiveness
  • The one I like the best – Forgiveness is a choice the forgiver makes to let go of resentment held in the forgiver’s mind of a perceived wrong or difference, either actual or imagined. …


Yoga teachers Joel Kramer and Diana Alstead assert that faith-based ideals of forgiveness, while appearing selfless, contain implicit selfish aspects. They state that “when forgiving contains a moral component, there is moral superiority in the act itself that can allow one to feel virtuous.” They ask: “As long as one is judging the other lacking, how much letting go can there be?” They note that “Where the virtue in ‘moralistic foregiving’ lies is also complicated by the fact that it is often unclear who benefits more from it, the one doing the forgiving or the one being forgiven.” Not surprisingly, they note “that for many people, forgiving is an area of confusion intellectually.

Some years ago, through various teachings and readings, I determined the best way for me to deal with and understand forgiveness was in terms of reincarnation, which teaches that it’s the emotional impact of a situation that determines whether we have learned a lesson and can “let go” (of the baggage) and move on or not. I had to learn to Let. Go. of the intense emotion – essentially neutralizing that passionate reaction – in order to “let it go” – to forgive. I had to neutralize the emotional grip so that *I* could move on. I learned that we tend to repeat lessons until we have learned them. You have probably had similar experiences – where you go through a situation over and over again – until you “get it.” Different people, different place, same situation. Did you “get it” this time? I got pretty bored with going through the same things over and over again, so decided if I had to spend my life learning lessons, at least I could try for variety! Learn this one now – then Move ON! Get something different going on!

The biggest factor for me was learning how to let go of – to neutralize – the passion, the consuming emotion in a situation. Because that emotion – or attachment – is what holds us to that particular lesson. By learning to let go – to forgive – I have the chance to get out of boring and into a different lesson!

Yes, I’ve done a lot of letting go in my life – and had quite a variety of “lessons,” but this recurrent, this once again current – lesson is with relationships. For some reason, it seems relationships within a family are more challenging than many other kinds, perhaps because we form them at a very young (and impressionable) age, so they tend to be more cellularly intertwined than later relationships.

So, how do I forgive my brother’s arrogance, pigheadedness, lack of respect and care for my mother, and all those other judgmental comments I have about him? Of course, I am nothing like him. I’m not arrogant, pigheaded, stubborn, or any of those negative things, right? Ha! And even if so – self righteousness raises its ugly head and proclaims, “Of course, I’m right.” And “God is on my side!”

All of which is moot. And who cares anyway? What I DO care about is letting go of these fierce emotions that cause me distress and result in wasted time, wasted effort, and leave me with a blistering headache. I refuse to allow this to continue. It intrudes in my daily life, upsets my stomach and just flat out makes me sick.

The other day, I had a realization – there is a possibility my brother is afraid. He is a scared little boy who doesn’t know how to handle his fear in any way other than to bluster and bluff.

When he visits mom, it’s Little Lord Fauntleroy visits Princess Daisy. They preen and fawn over each other, flirt and laugh, and they fulfill an emotional need. He has always been “Mama’s little boy” – “hanging on mama’s apron strings.” He needs her approval and love. She needs his adoration and love. And they are happy together – because they meet each other’s need. When the visit is over and each goes their separate way, they are fulfilled and sated for a time. Mom’s cheeks are rosier after their visit, and she wears a smile – until real life intrudes again – in the form of a daughter who has become the parent. It’s quite sad, really, but there it is.

So, how do I forgive this arrogant Prince who has my mother’s love and adoration? How do I let go of my anger and resentment?

While living at a distance, I could easily say, “Mom prefers Bruce; and he needs her. Let them take care of each other. They don’t want or need me in the picture.” I was correct – then. And for my brother, that is still true. He would prefer I was not in the picture. But he also wants to continue to think of his mother as “always there” and, sadly, younger and healthier than she is. When she dies, I will have tears but few regrets. I am here, not just doing my daughterly duty, but learning to live in relationship with my mother as an adult and in ways we never imagined would be necessary. I am at peace with my mother’s passing. My mother’s son, on the other hand, continues to live his life in denial of his precious mother’s mortality. The shock and regrets he will face are more than I ever want to bear, and I pity him. By trying to control me, he perhaps feels he can control mom’s living. He can then blame me for her death because I’m the one who is here – and he will just be a man (or little boy) bereft – lost at sea with no one there to save him.

As you can see, part of my process for learning to “forgive” – to let go of the emotional baggage I carry around this relationship – is to try and understand the root cause of HIS anger and resentment toward me. Perhaps, if I understand his fears better, I will be able to have those “compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive.”

Perhaps, with some understanding, I might be ready to make that choice to let go of resentment held in my mind of a perceived wrong or difference, either actual or imagined. …      I hope so.

Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. I have also found this to be true. However, I also know that letting go (forgiving) does not necessarily mean liking the person or even having anything to do with them. My letting go of anger and resentment toward my mother’s son does not mean I have to like him – or have any contact with him. Letting go – or forgivness – neutralizes the passion and consuming nature of anger – but friendship does not necessarily follow.

I have also realized that forgiveness, or letting go of the emotional baggage, is a selfish act. It really has little to do with the other person, but it accomplishes several things for me, the most important of which is making it possible for me to live a joy-filled life

My goal is to learn to forgive – to let go of those fierce emotions – and when that is accomplished, I can channel that passion, that wonderful energy into positive and perfect solutions for my life.

This talk was given at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Charlotte County in Port Charlotte FL on October 5, 2008.


I found this “talk” today while looking through files. While reading it, I realized that my goal of forgiveness/letting go toward my birth brother has been achieved. Since our mother’s death, we had contact regarding her gravestone; however, once that was accomplished, there has been no further contact. It was clear that my mother was the single reason for any relationship between us.

While reading through this document, I focused on my feelings and thoughts, and found no emotion around this situation or the man who was born as “my brother.” Interestingly, I was shown a photo of him recently and discovered no emotion at all in seeing him – he is simply a stranger whose face I happen to recognize.

Letting go of those fierce emotions has resulted in a life journey I could not have anticipated when this missive was written!

If you are working on “forgiveness” in your life, I encourage you to focus on it for however long it takes to accomplish that goal. Find someone who has been on the journey to assist you as you take the steps and who will walk with you along the way. As you let go of the fierce emotions, with compassion for yourself, carry with you the awareness that miracles are waiting for you, just on the other side of that fierce emotional wall.


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