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The art of forgiveness

Like many important life skills, it starts in the sand box.

“That wasn’t nice to take his bucket. Say you’re sorry.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Say ‘I forgive you.’ ”
“I forgive you.”

It begins like brushing teeth. It’s something you are told you must do, a habit you must develop even though you cannot comprehend the consequence of a cavity.

I have learned a lot about the consequences of not forgiving. Like a cavity, at first, bitterness does unseen damage.

Forgiveness is not a very sexy topic. When I tell people about my current creative endeavor to create a communal art project about the power of forgiveness… well, not everyone is as excited as I am.

And I totally get it. It can be messy and painful. I’ve been there. Acknowledging wrong that has been done to you and making a choice to forgive is not always simple. It can be emotionally exhausting and not exactly how we want to spend our limited free time.

But, honestly, it’s worth it. It can be uncomfortable, sure, but so many of the actions that nourish our soul and enrich our lives with meaning take a little sweat and effort.

To live a simple life is not just about an organized kitchen, it is also about internal simplicity, taking the time to clean out resentment from your heart.

The art of forgiveness, on

My Journey of Forgiveness

It’s been almost 4 years since my ex-husband left. To put it mildly, that stirred up all kinds of anger and resentment. In the process, I realized that there was a lot (and I do mean A LOT) of other areas of my life where I needed to forgive that had nothing to do with my marriage.

• I had to forgive my parents for not being perfect parents.
• I had to forgive an old boss who plagiarized my writing.
• I had to forgive the drunk driver who caused a car accident I was in.
• I had to forgive the rude lady at Home Depot who criticized me loudly on the day I signed my divorce papers. • I had to forgive people at my church who had given me hurtful and destructive marriage advice.
• I had to forgive my sisters for assorted sisterly things.
• I had to forgive my dad for not making more effort to connect with me before he died.
• I had to forgive strangers who judged me for making work phone calls while at the playground.
• I had to forgive friends who had lied to me.
• I had to forgive a lot of other things so painful that I can’t list them here.

I had to forgive myself, too. I had to forgive myself for a very, very long list of failures and mistakes.

I learned one of those annoyingly obvious life lessons in the process: you can’t control others, you can only control yourself.

Releasing a Debt, Not Shaming

I didn’t actually go in person to most of these people to discuss what they had done wrong and inform them of my benevolence. For me, this journey is about my choice to let go and release, not about trying to pour guilt or shame on anyone.

As an artist, most of the life lessons I learn get worked out through some creative medium. For this process, I wrote a song called “You Owe No Debt to Me.” It’s based on the concept that when you forgive, it’s like paying a debt that someone owes you. They wronged you, and in a certain sense, they owe you. But you can choose to forgive and pay that debt for them, even if they don’t “deserve” it or haven’t asked for it.

Instead of their “account” being in the negative, you go back to a zero balance in that relationship.


The Art of Forgiveness

I have found a meaningful parallel between the act of creating and the art of forgiveness. To forgive is to remove bitterness and create more space for love, gentleness and kindness.

And that’s why I’m doing this Kickstarter project called The Art of Forgiveness. I am passionate about this topic and this project. I want to encourage as many people as possible about the power of choosing to forgive.

I invite you to check out my project, write down your own statement of forgiveness and share your story with me.

Be vulnerable. Be brave. 

Talk to your kids about forgiveness. Talk to your friends about it. Whether or not you join me in my creative endeavor,  I encourage  you to consider the value of spending time examining your heart and uncovering areas where you can experience more freedom through forgiveness.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to hearing about your journey of forgiveness.

What have you learned about forgiveness? What do you want to teach your kids about it?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Chrisy@GoodNorthCoastLife

    Gosh what an interesting topic Crystal. I guess we all have people we we could forgive. Your class sounds really interesting, off to check it out now.

  2. Jen

    Wow. This really hits home. I have some thinking and some work to do. Thank you.

    • Crystal

      Thanks for your comment, Jen. I hope your reflections are meaningful. 🙂

  3. Tammy

    Forgiveness is a hard topic for me, but God has given me the ability to forgive very deep hurts. The last several years, God really has helped me in this area. I know it is not something I could have done in my own strength.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Liesl Garner

    Beautifully written. What I have been learning about forgiveness is that it is much more about releasing myself from holding into anger than it is about releasing the other person from their debt to me – as often people who have hurt us either don’t know it, or are calloused and don’t care that they’ve hurt us. My dad described it as that person we are angry at being out playing golf and being completely unaware of our spinning all over the place being consumed by anger. It’s do much more about letting go so that I can enjoy my own glorious life.

  5. laura

    I love how you wrote this and how you are trying to find beauty and expression through those hurts. At one time, I thought forgiveness was a one time deal. As I grow older, I realize that forgiveness is a daily act. I shouldn’t be surprised when the same topics resurface. There are so many times that one thing/incident continues to seep back into my mind and create bitterness–I have to forgive over and over.

  6. Sarah M

    What helps me be willing to forgive is remembering that I, too, have hurt others (intentionally or not) and have needed it myself. When you think about it, We really have no right to not forgive when we have been forgiven much.
    The other thing that helps me forgive is to “assume the best” about the other person-about their motives and heart. Maybe they really didn’t have the best of intentions, but giving them the benefit of that doubt helps the forgiveness process along. Oh how I wish that the times I very unintentionally hurt someone, that I had been given the benefit of the doubt by that person.
    Now, I have not had to wrestle with and forgive a husband leaving. That would certainly test all the limits of my forgiveness, and I certainly can’t even say how I would continue breathing, let alone deal with that hurt.

  7. Vanessa

    Beautiful. This is a powerful and needed project. Thank you.


  8. Faigie

    There is one very important thing about forgiveness that I think people have to know. You can only forgive what is done to you. I remember after the Columbine massacre or maybe a different one a group of students made some signs saying to the killers “We forgive you” Who were they to forgive the killers? Nothing was done to them. And another things is , some things really are beyond forgiveness. We may have to work on letting go of our resentment but, if it was a really terrible thing, I’m not so sure we responsible for forgiving

  9. Tanya

    Such a hard topic. Everyone has at least someone that they can forgive. It is always very freeing when you let go of the bitterness and forgive someone or yourself.

  10. Betsy

    Crystal, this is a beautiful post. I love the part about creating more space for love, kindness, and gentleness. I live in the Middle East, and my husband just completed his doctoral dissertation from Fuller Seminary on forgiveness and the lack of it in the culture where we live. This has been a life changing topic for us.

    I look forward to looking at your project.

  11. Franziska

    I love how you talk about “internal simplicity”. I actually think that this should always be the goal of our simplifying endeavors… You picked definitely a tough topic but I think whoever masters forgiveness, can probably handle most hard things that life throws at you!

  12. Susan

    Great topic. You’ve given me a lot to think about this weekend. I’ll have the time…because the California Insurance Exchange website will be down the entire weekend. I guess I should forgive them for having a bad website? or Obama for getting my 12 year old’s insurance cancelled?

  13. M

    Wow, what an important topic, and how great that you’re doing an art project about it! Good stuff! I’ve been trying to forgive others aswell as myself for a while now, and it’s kind of a back and forth kind of thing. A lady, I think it was from Inner bonding, said (if I remember correctly) that we have trouble forgiving others because WE are still doing to ourselves what they did to us, in some way. That was so helpful! Say, if I’m having difficulties forgiving someone who shamed me, it’s very likely because I’m still shaming myself in some way. Also, learning about the Shadow (authors I like are Debbie Ford and James Hollis for instance) and inner child work (John Bradshaw) has been so very helpful. By learning more about the human psyche and embracing all of my human emotions and qualities, I have come a lot further in having compassion for and in forgiving myself and others. And really feeling it more and more, you know, not just knowing in my head that it would do me good to release my shame and to forgive. It’s still a work in progress though, but I have really come a long way, and honestly, I have really doubted if it was possible for me.

  14. Claire

    Thank you for this… I’ve been thinking about this too. I was driving to work and heard that song about forgiveness called “Losing” by Tenth Avenue North and just started bawling in the car… the more you hold on to things… the more it really does destroy you…

  15. The Art Of Forgiveness

    Forgive and forget. Isn’t that what we were taught. I use to think that forgiveness was letting someone get away with wrong doing, or justice not being served. I use to think that forgiveness was only between me and someone. I was wrong. Forgiveness is “Emotional Minimalism”. It’s letting yourself get away, without carrying the burden of things you can’t control. It is releasing control and gaining everything. Forgiveness 101 is forgiving a person. Let me teach you the advanced art of forgiveness.

  16. Philos

    And another thing I like about forgiveness is the power it gives us to stretch and have a feel of both banks of the river – to be individuals who understand, well, what comes with being forgiven and doing the forgiving.

  17. Lisa

    I saw your post earlier today and can’t stop thinking about it. I too have been pondering the meaning of forgiveness in my life. Coming from a very dysfunctional family and being assaulted in the military, I lived with many resentments and conflicting feelings for years. I became depressed for three years, and ended up in the mental health unit of the hospital several times. I realized my anger over these experiences I was so powerless over was going to eventually kill me.

    Then I learned I needed to accept what happened. And acceptance did not mean I condoned what had happened in my life, or thought it was o.k. Acceptance meant these things had happened, and now I needed to choose how I was going to move forward with my life. Now, at 47 years old, I needed to choose life over death, and the present over the past. This, I realized, is what I had power over. I have the power to accept my life as it is today, and to make choices each moment that create the life I want for myself and my family. Acceptance, for me, is my key to forgiveness. Once I accepted how people in my life had behaved, I could move on and let go. I could let go and forgive. I am not a victim anymore. I live in the present, with the understanding that everyone is doing the best they can, and I can choose to live in loving kindness. This is what I have power over. I have the power to forgive.

    • Crystal

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Lisa. It’s good to hear what it’s like for other people. High five. 🙂

  18. Andrew Burgon

    “To forgive is to remove bitterness and create more space for love, gentleness and kindness.”

    Thanks for expressing it that way. Never thought about it like that. Forgiveness definitely has it’s incentives.

    “But you can choose to forgive and pay that debt for them, even if they don’t “deserve” it or haven’t asked for it. Instead of their “account” being in the negative, you go back to a zero balance in that relationship.”

    I understand what you are getting at and you’re no doubt keeping it ultra-simple which I appreciate. I’m just not so sure it pans out that way unless, of course, you mean an account of misdemeanors and wrong doing and not a friendship account.

    For example, a good friend does something that pains us. It might feel like a -20 hit but hey, he has 585 credits in the friendship account. If you forgive him outright it’s 585 credits. If you don’t its 565 credits.

    Even if it was an account of misdemeanors and wrong doing can we go back to a true “0” every time where the slate is absolutely clean?

    Consider, for example, a best friend you loaned money to cause she was experiencing desperate financial times which she unfortunately brought upon herself. It’s only a short term loan and despite your attempts to get the money back you still don’t have the money 2.5 years later and your friend is now living overseas. She was unbelievably lame concerning the repayment of the loan and this pains you far more than the money she has failed to honor. By sheer luck a mutual friend intervenes and you get nearly all the money back. You more or less forgive the friend BUT this has been bothering you for 2.5 years. It’s been an emotional blast in your face. You were so good to this person and this is how they repay you?

    You have forgiven her and the account is settled as far as you’re concerned and the account is 0 … or is it? Can the friendship be restored by some kind of magical back-up software which takes you back the day before you made the loan? Would you loan that friend money again? Has the friendship really come away unscathed and untainted? Can forgiveness also lighten a heavy heart and eyes that naturally glaze over when this friend is in sight? The life cycle of this friendship appears to be over and the friend now lives permanently overseas and never writes. The question is would you even want to continue a friendship with this person?

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