The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Honesty and Forgiveness

Honesty and Forgiveness

Exploring Spiritual Formation and Creativity

In the last note I explored the idea of a different way of judging, one that acknowledged the connection between action and person, but separated condemnation from judgement.  If we are not the ones to condemn a person – even ourselves – but are the ones to judge rightly, what happens when we are crossed? After all, there will be moments when we bump into each other with the aspects of our character that are still being worked on. Our wills will be crossed, and action will arise in defense of our will.

Indeed, there are some other parts of this journey that are worth exploring. Here I will venture to explore two parts that seem to be interrelated.


Honesty is an important aspect of the process of spiritual transformation. Honesty is the expression of knowledge, plainly, without manipulations like exaggeration or hiding. We all have deeply held beliefs around honesty. Maybe we believe that it is impossible to be completely honest and get ahead in this world. Maybe we believe, instead, that there is a scale to levels of honesty, with something like little white lies at the bottom and blatant fabrications at the top. Maybe we believe that there are acceptable levels of deceit on this scale. Maybe we believe that honesty is the goal, but the world isn’t organized towards it.

We might find it difficult to be honest with a friend or loved one because we assume (maybe rightly) a negative outcome. We bend the truth, hide what the reality of the situation is, and try to ride it out, for the sake of avoiding this assumed negative outcome. Let us pause here for a moment and acknowledge the logic of this way. Of course, it seems good and right to protect ourselves and maybe others from negative outcomes. Of course, it seems good and right to do what we can to ease the journey we are on. But something deeper is at work here. When honesty is considered something worth sacrificing for the sake of avoiding negative outcomes there are ramifications to consider.

Trust is a function of honesty. If honesty is questioned in a relationship, trust in that relationship is then questionable. If trust is questionable, self-protection becomes the way. Consider the common trope of the used-car salesman. The image of this character is one of dishonesty, even sleaze. Of course, not all used-car salespeople are dishonest, yet the trope remains in the popular imagination. The common fear of engaging with the stereotypical used-car salesman is that we will be taken advantage of. We can’t trust them, and therefore must protect ourselves. The good haggler is then the complimentary character. That is the customer for whom the dishonesty of the used-car salesman is not a problem. The good haggler knows how to navigate the dangerous interaction so as not to be taken advantage of. They are skilled in verbal sparring, have knowledge of the product being sold, and are therefore able to win. They get the car they want, at the price they want, and leave the dealership having achieved their goal in spite of the dangers posed by a dishonest guide. While many other things may be at play in this example, relationally, it is the lack of trust that makes self-protecting a requirement.

Becoming Honest

Being honest doesn’t have to do with knowing everything. We are limited beings with limited knowledge, and knowledge about everything is not the end goal. The goal is becoming the kind of person who is willing to be honest – and is honest – even in the face of great temptation to be otherwise. This is the journey, from being one kind of person, to another.

While we can’t know everything, even about ourselves, we can begin by practicing being honest about what we do know. We can practice being honest in how we judge, especially of our own actions. Our thoughts and feelings are another great place to start. In the model of the person that I use in my spiritual formation for artists course, which I blatantly lifted with credit from Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart, our thoughts and feelings reside in the mind of the person. The mind is a part of the unseen landscape of our person that we have access to. We can observe our thoughts and feelings, and even have thoughts and feelings about our thoughts and feelings!

Without going too far down that rabbit hole, taking inventory on the way we think and feel in certain situations and in response to certain ideas is a great way to practice being honest. Here, honesty means bearing the burden of who we find ourselves to be – good and evil included. Didn’t expect to have particular thoughts or feelings? Judge rightly, and don’t condemn yourself. Being honest with yourself about who you find yourself to be sets the tone for the journey of spiritual transformation. We begin to resist hiding or excusing, but rather turn towards the whatever we might be able to do for the sake of change. Without loving honesty, we willingly blind ourselves to the reality of our being.

Maybe it’s too hard to bear? Unearthing parts of ourselves that we would judge as negative can be a trying endeavor. There is something important to be said about the function of love – the existence and the receipt of it – in the midst of this whole process. Imagine exploring your inner person with someone who loves you even as you discover the darker parts. Take a moment and really consider what that might look like. There is plenty more to be said about love in all of this, but considering love to be what undergirds the process of spiritual transformation is a key.

Back to honesty. In looking towards the process of transformation, a time of dramatic change and encountering the unknown, what does honesty mean? Honesty means accepting what we are able to do and not do. Honesty means being able to say that we don’t know the outcome of a series of choices, because we’re now living in a world that is posed for change. Honesty means considering our own position in the world and working from there, not anything less and not anything more.

No excuses, but forgiveness.

If we are to be honest with ourselves, judging rightly, what happens when we are guilty of wrongdoing? Imagine thinking or feeling – even acting out – a response to a particular situation that you’d rather not. We might say, “I didn’t think that was in me,” or “I don’t like that I was able to do that.” When we do something that clearly misses the mark, what is the following course of action?

After recognizing a particular thing – be it arrogance, anger, covetousness, or the like – at work in us, we have a choice. As described in my last note, we might be tempted to excuse ourselves. We will aim to keep the image of ourselves as separate from the actions that come from us, and find the excuse that does that. I was under pressure. I hadn’t eaten enough. I was caught off guard. All of these may be true. But if we take the excuse, we miss the gift of the unveiling. When something good or evil at work in us is unveiled, it is a gift. For much of the unseen landscape of the inner person, is just that, unseen. It has to be unveiled. If we choose to recognize the connected nature between will and action, we will not allow ourselves to be excused. What happens next is the thing.

Once unveiled and unexcused, there seem to be two basic paths. One is to break under the burden of realizing that our person is not who we thought it was. The other is to seek, receive, and ultimately live from a position of forgiveness. Being forgiven is different than being excused. Forgiveness requires acknowledgement of wrongdoing. It requires a moment of exposure in the form of apology. It may even require a time where we bear the guilt or shame of the act. This functions in models of change as John Maxwell notes, one of the reasons people begin to change is when they have hurt enough. Finally, though, the process of forgiveness assumes a world in which guilt and shame may be relieved by the granting of forgiveness.

Forgiveness, then is an offering of love. Forgiveness releases someone from the guilt or shame they may bear from an act they have executed. In receiving forgiveness, they are free from the stigma and identity that comes with identifying with the bad act, and free to rethink their ways. They are reconstituted into a free person, with no obligation to the person whom their act offended. Whatever choices they make after this freedom is experienced – to change or not – will be under their own free will.

Forgiveness comes out of a desire to see someone as they are even if that means that we will be hurt. The desire to see someone as they are is rooted in a sense of wonder when confronted with the reality of a human being. This is undergirded by a realization that no change or growth, or experience of wonder or love, can really be had without first seeing ourselves and those we love as they really are. The willingness, then, to see someone as they are, and further, to be a space in which they may also come to see themselves as they are, is a function wanting them to have the opportunity to change and grow and experience wonder or love. To be part of the process of unveiling is to press into the good for ourselves and each other.

There isn’t effortless work, but it is significant. Maybe even worthwhile, knowing that the greatest gift we can give to the world is the person that we may become.

The Notes with Andrew Nemr
The Notes with Andrew Nemr
Andrew Nemr, a critically acclaimed tap dance artist, explores the intersection of creativity and spiritual formation.
Listen on
Substack App
RSS Feed
Appears in episode
Andrew Nemr