Guilt and forgiveness – Part 1

Paulo Coelho

During his pilgrimage to Mecca, a holy man was suddenly aware of God’s presence beside him. He fell into a trance, knelt down, hid his face and prayed:

‘Lord, I ask only one thing in my life, that You give me the grace never to offend You.’

‘I cannot give you that grace,’ replied the Almighty.

Surprised, the man asked why.

‘If you never offend me, I will have no reason to forgive you,’ he heard the Lord say. ‘And if I have no need to forgive you, you will soon forget the importance of being merciful to others. Therefore, continue on your way with Love, and allow me to forgive you now and then, so that you do not forget this virtue either.’

The story clearly illustrates our own problems with guilt and forgiveness. When we were children, we would often overhear our mother saying: ‘My child only behaved foolishly because he got into bad company. He’s a very good boy really.’

And so we never took responsibility for our actions, never asked for forgiveness and ended up forgetting that we must also be generous with those who offend us. The act of forgiveness has nothing to do with feelings of guilt or cowardice: we all make mistakes and it is only by occasionally stumbling that we can improve and progress. On the other hand, if we are too tolerant of our own behaviour – especially when this hurts other people – we become isolated and incapable of correcting our path.

How can we drive out guilt, but at the same time be capable of asking forgiveness for any mistakes we make?

There are no easy formulas, but there is good sense: we should judge the results of our actions and not the intentions behind them. Deep down, everyone is good, but that is irrelevant and will not heal any wounds we might inflict.

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