Reading and learning about forgiveness and atonement is one thing, but it can be a different thing altogether to practice it in your own life. What can you do to practice atonement in ways that are useful and practical in your day-to-day life? Read through our Take Action Toolkit to begin to explore some possibilities, and begin your own journey toward healed relationships and a more peaceful life.
- Learn about Atonement and the difference it can make in your own life. Read the book Beyond Forgiveness: Reflections on Atonement. Browse our site to for inspiration, and visit our Resources to find more information that will help you dig deeper into the subjects of forgiveness and atonement. Discover what atonement has meant for others, and begin to understand its importance in our lives.
- Explore atonement in community with others. Start a book study group, open your home for a discussion gathering, or schedule a community meeting to explore ways that you can contribute to the healing of your community on an individual, social, or institutional level. It is in community with others that we can best learn, contribute to each other’s healing, and brainstorm ways to make a difference.
- Begin your own personal process of atonement. Make a personal inventory of your own life and the places you need or want to atone for past transgressions. Act specifically to atone for something you have said or done. If you have destroyed, rebuild. If you have hurt, repair. Begin to experiment with the healing power of atonement in the relationships closest to you. Explore The Atonement Journey Wheel. Gain insight and inspiration about where you might start your journey from the contributions of experienced philosphers, activists, psychologitsts in Beyond Forgiveness.
- Share your story. Take time to hear and read the stories of others, and to share your own. Telling and listening to stories are some of the most profound and ancient ways we learn from one another—and avoid repeating the same mistakes others have made. Comparing your story with others helps embolden you to tell your own. Share your story on this website, tell it to a friend, or offer it in a story circle. As Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, “The labyrinth is thoroughly known”—share your story with those who have been through it before you. If you are not ready to share out loud, write your story as a journal entry to yourself, create it as a piece of art (try videotaping yourself telling your story, or telling it in a comic strip!). You may find, as have many others, that healing can begin with the simple act of sharing.
- Volunteer, intern, or donate to support atonement. Make it a point to support groups and organizations that help people to heal through atonement and forgiveness. You do not need to look only to your own past in order to heal past mistakes. You can also do work to heal wounds that you had no part in creating, but that still negatively affect our world. This could be working in support of racial equality, religious unity, or political freedom in areas where those things have been denied in the past by our fellow human beings. Work to secure justice and peace for others, or offer a service that helps people directly to overcome the hurt rooted in their (and others’) past actions. For some ideas of where to start, check out our Resources page and our Contributor page for more information. If you can’t volunteer your time or money, find ways to give your support to the people who can. Recognize our shared humanity, our shared mistakes, and our shared opportunity to heal.
- Teach the steps of atonement to others. Whatever you are already doing in your life, explore ways to bring the healing understanding of atonement into that work. If you are an educator, therapist, religious or spiritual leader, share your knowledge of atonement with your community or constituents in ways that will speak to their hearts. (If a great story comes out of it, share it with us!) If you are a parent, teach your children and other family members about atonement and forgiveness in ways that make sense for them. Trust yourself to know what is best for your family and community, and go from there. By teaching atonement to others, you will be giving them a great gift, the gift of control over healing their own lives.
- Refocus on your relationships. Expand your awareness of your behavior in your relationships, and you will go a long way to seeing where atonement and forgiveness are needed in your life. Pay attention to how you interact with those around you, what you say, do, and think. The more you learn about yourself, inside and out, the less likely you are to act in ways that require healing a relationship later on. Learn to listen (find out how well you listen with a great quiz here). Learn to speak and interact with loving care, and avoid needing to atone and be forgiven in the future.
- Commit to a Practice. Practice saying you’re sorry. Saying we’re sorry — and making amends to prove it — are simple actions that we often neglect to do. Simple oversights can grow into massive resentments or destructive relationships over time. Do yourself a favor, and don’t stop at atoning for your past transgressions. Start a new practice of taking responsibility and atoning in the moment the hurtful moment occurs. As soon as you are able after making a mistake, apologize, and do the action necessary to make amends.
- Forgive others. Part of bringing the power of atonement into your own life requires allowing those around you to atone for what they may have said or done to you. Check out these Practices to Seek Forgiveness and Forgive Others. Get inspired by the work of The Forgiveness Project. While you work on making up for your mistakes, do not deny others the opportunity to do the same. Learn about forgiveness and extend it to others whenever you can–even if it is contingent upon them atoning for their actions. Forgiveness and atonement are “two sides of the same coin.”
- Create. Sometimes it really is too hard to find a way to atone as you would like, or your ways of offering atonement are not received the way you would like. In that case you can still heal your own life. Create atonement for yourself by making art, music, dance, by cooking a meal for someone who needs it, by writing a letter that may or may not ever be read, or by putting your energy into a volunteer project that brings light into people’s lives. You can even atone by paying forward the kindness that you are unable to give to the one who would have received it. It may not seem possible, but it is undoubtedly true: atonement works even if it is not “paid back” to the person who was originally hurt. It is an act of personal creation, and it only depends on you. Decide what you need to say or do to make it right, and do it openly, courageously.
- Promote peace on all levels. Acts of atonement are acts of cultivating peace, in ourselves, our relationships, and our world; and they reflect what we already know: we all want peace. Find out what people are doing to build peace, and why it works, and contribute to the holistic picture of peacebuilding, of which atonement is just a part. Learning about conflict resolution, nonviolence, restorative justice, and other forms of peacebuilding, we can act from a place of better understanding, and have a better set of tools from which to work for healing and change.
- As you explore atonement in your own life, think of how atonement might work in other aspects of society: on a community level, a national level, an international level. As you learn more, look for examples of the effects of atonement (or lack of atonement!) and you will surely become aware of examples all around you. When you do, help to think of solutions and share with those who have the power to put those solutions into practice. Write an op-ed or a letter to your newspaper or start a blog. Contact your government officials or start your own group to make change happen. And while you are doing that, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Only when we have inner peace are we really able to create peace with others.
This Toolkit is a work in progress, as we are always learning new things as we embark on this healing journey of forgiveness and atonement. We offer it to you as a humble experiment in generosity. If you have suggestions or comments, or better yet, new ideas to add here, please contact us by e-mail to share your suggestions!