Kintsugi and forgiveness

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Kintsugi (kintsukuroi) pink and green dragon veins agate stone heart pendant with gold repair on black cotton cord


In theory, the image of kintsugi goes quite well with the practice of forgiveness. An injury within a relationship causes some brokenness in that relationship, and forgiveness brings healing to the relationship that strengthens it and adds beauty to the resulting renewed relationship.

In reality, the story is seldom that tidy. Sometimes forgiveness does lead to a renewed and restored relationship, but there are also many cases where it doesn't.

Perhaps you are forgiving someone who has died, which makes a renewed relationship no longer an option. Or maybe the person you are forgiving is not open to a renewed relationship, but you are still willing to forgive to let go the burden of resentment you have carried.

Or perhaps it is not safe to be in relationship with someone, but you still choose to forgive even if you protect yourself with distance. Or maybe you are forgiving an institution or group where relationship doesn't really apply in the same way, but you still need to let it go.

Or maybe, like me, the person you struggle most to forgive is yourself; the one person you can never be out of relationship with.

What does kintsugi have to do with forgiveness in these cases where the traditional image doesn't fit so well?

My lack of skill with forgiveness hardly makes me an expert to offer definitive wisdom of any kind, but there are two things about kintsugi that have been speaking to me recently as I continue to work on this skill.

The cracks remain

One of the things I constantly struggle with when it comes to forgiveness is that it often feels like forgiving an injury means pretending as if the injury never happened, and I just don't know how to do that.

I know better. I've read and heard so much about how forgiveness is laying down the burden I am carrying of the anger, resentment, and ongoing pain of the injury without saying that what happened was ok or pretending it didn't happen or that it didn't matter.

And yet, in the moment when I'm struggling to forgive (whether trying to forgive myself or another), I struggle with the feeling that I am somehow minimizing or dismissing what happened in order to forgive it.

The image of kintsugi allows me to see this in different way. When something is repaired using kintsugi, the "injury" or the cracks do not in any way disappear. If anything, they are highlighted by the lines of gold. The scars become a part of the story of the object, but they are no longer sharp, painful places of damage.

The repair (or healing) of the cracks is now just as much a part of the story as the cracks themselves are, and the beauty lies in the two together. They are no longer separable.

When I think of forgiveness similarly, forgiveness can be what takes away the sharp, painful edges of that part of my life's story without erasing the story itself. The injury remains as part of my story while the forgiveness allows that part of my story to no longer be a heavy burden of pain and resentment.

No matter what happens (or doesn't happen) in the affected relationship, that forgiveness still heals a part of me and of my story that allows me stop carrying that burden. It also heals those hidden cracks inside me that would otherwise make me more vulnerable to future breaks.

Using this image as I work toward forgiveness can ease my way forward by removing what is often one of my biggest internal blocks.

It is a process

The other place I often stumble with trying to forgive is that I expect it to happen in one miraculous moment and be done forever. When that doesn't happen (and it never does), I deem myself a failure at forgiveness and want to give up.

But kintsugi tells me that this kind of work is a slow, repetitive process of building up layer on layer. I very often have to repeat the steps more than once to get a good line of repair in the stone.

Because that layering process is expected, it doesn't feel like a failure when it's needed. It's just part of the work.

The hope that kintsugi offers me is that the brokenness is not the end. I don't have to accept that as a permanent state. And that can give the driving motivation I need to continue to work and push toward healing.

The same is true of forgiveness. The hope that I can lay this burden of pain and anger and resentment down and allow the sharp edges to heal by continuing to work toward forgiveness gives me hope that my story doesn't have to stop with the injury.

My story can continue into healing on the other side of the injury if I am willing to be persistent in the work to get there.

What does forgiveness mean for you?

Every story of forgiveness—just like every story of brokenness and healing—is unique. And yet, there are still similarities that can be drawn from the variety of stories we all experience.

What does forgiveness mean for you? And how does the image of kintsugi help you move toward forgiveness in the injured places in your life?

Would you agree with the two applications I mention? What other applications of this image to forgiveness are meaningful for you?

In the places in your life that you are still struggling to forgive, how can you use this image of kintsugi to inspire you to keep on doing the work to get there?


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