Forgiveness Is More than Skin Deep

Pour a Cup of Coffee and Share Your Story


Forgiveness is more than skin deep—but I started there.

I had the word “forgive” tattooed onto my forearm. I was working at a coffee shop, at the time, and the tattoo was visible to customers. Occasionally, they would linger after receiving their drink and ask about the tattoo.

Then, they would share their story. Today, I hope you’ll do that either in a Comment, below, or via Facebook (share this column using the blue-“f” facebook icon) or send me an email at [email protected]

Paul Hile with tattoo and coffeecupI’ll go first. Here’s my story …

Forgiveness is elusive. If I’m not mindful, if I’m not looking for the opportunity, if I’m not reminded to work toward forgiveness, it is far too easy for me to carry my burdens far too long.

And that’s why Ben Pratt’s recent column on forgiveness was so remarkable, because when you hear a story about true forgiveness—when someone is fully and completely forgiven, or able to fully and completely forgive—it’s nothing short of inspiring.

As a caregiver, I’ve struggled with forgiveness. I have spent so much time wondering why my wife and I lost friends after her diagnosis. I couldn’t understand why many of her professors questioned the legitimacy of her illness, and treated her so poorly. Similarly, after my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer, I found it difficult to forgive people who might have been unkind.

But I was reminded after reading Ben Pratt’s column, that with grace and time, we can forgive those who have treated us poorly, abandoned us, or—as was the case with Ben’s father—caused us harm.

As the years have passed, I’ve worked towards forgiving those that could not stand with us during our most difficult hours. I’ve come to learn that forgiveness and reconciliation are two very different processes, and while I still might not have friendships with people I once cared deeply for, I have forgiven and moved forward, as has my wife, and that’s okay.

The forgiveness I really struggle with, however, is not as easy to define, because it’s not directed at any one person, but rather at the situation. When my wife was diagnosed with her autoimmune disorder, when she could not walk up stairs by herself, or get out of a car without help, I was hurt and sad and angry that my wife, my love—a person who was so active and full of aspirations and dreams and ambitions—was suddenly consumed with a battle she shouldn’t have had to face. And while I realize that we are not entitled to a life of good and abundant health—if I’m being honest, I’m still angry.

But here’s the problem: How do you forgive—a situation?

As a person, I am fallible. I make mistakes, and so I can realize that other people make mistakes, too. I know I haven’t stood by friends and family in their time of need, and so I can ultimately understand and forgive those who could not stand with us.

But how can I forgive something that I cannot, despite my best efforts, understand? I don’t have an easy answer to this question. All I know is that forgiveness is a process. It takes time. And it involves sharing our stories.

I remember, back in the coffee shop, a woman who told me about forgiving her ex-husband, a man she told me she could not stand, a man she said she should not have married, a man who was unfaithful to her. She forgave him—on his deathbed. Before he died they spent hours laughing and crying, talking about the problems in their marriage they could never bring themselves to discuss at the time, and before they said goodbye, they both sought forgiveness, and they both were forgiven.

This story, the one Ben shared recently, and others serve as guideposts for me as I seek to forgive and be forgiven. They allow me to navigate this process of forgiveness, and remind me that life is more full and rich when we are first able to accept an outcome and then move beyond it; when we are able to understand that we are all capable of mistakes, that resentment and anger are far too heavy of burdens to carry, and that forgiveness is the ultimate prize.

Forgiveness looks and feels and acts differently for each one of us. We cannot expect ourselves into forgiveness, or wish ourselves forgiven—we just have to arrive there. And we will arrive there, because each of us has the capacity to forgive.

You might not have the word on your arm, but forgiveness is more than skin deep. It’s written into our DNA. And so I encourage you to work toward it, whether there is someone you need to forgive, something you need to forgive, or you’re the one asking for forgiveness.

Along the way, pour a cup of coffee—or your own chosen beverage—and share a story.

My cup’s full. I’m listening.

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  1. Benjamin Pratt says

    Dear Paul, Once again you have sounded the Grace Note and the music is beautiful. Very beautifully and sensitively done, my good, beyond-your-years wise friend. Forgiveness involves active, determined grieving. It is giving up the hope of a different past and claiming life for the future. You are clearly doing this vital work. With gratitude and affection, Benjamin

    • phile says

      Thanks Kristin. I appreciate your kind words. And I’m interested to learn more about why your tattoo would say “with grace and time”

  2. John Zarb says

    Oh, we the weak…. it sounds so easy… Forgive. Just, Forgive. Yet, I have a few “grudges” which are older than, well, the internet itself. My tattoo should be more visible to myself, as one located where yours is Paul would not remind myself often enough. Maybe on the dashboard of my car…. Pride, egos, principle, and I suppose many other things, create competition with your thesis and, for me, also a great need to be appreciated. All virtues which the strongest would laugh. As the Dali Lama said, “to love, requires an absence of judgment” and that I where am I starting my “forgiveness” journey. I appreciate your insights.

  3. Mary Liepold says

    Thank you for this, Paul! God picked you up & plunked you down in the growing & stretching place with no by-your-leave – as only God can – and you are rising to the occasion with uncommon grace. Maybe curiosity about what happens next is one of the things that keeps you going. Someone says our brains can’t accommodate curiosity & judgment at the same time. It’s an interesting idea, anyway.

  4. Rodney Curtis says

    Beautifully written, Paul. I love your message. It reminds me of bygone times when they held coffee klatches to socialize and share. My favorite line is, “Forgiveness looks and feels and acts differently for each one of us.”