Exploring Forgiveness (3 part series)
This is the third and final article in my three-part series about forgiveness. In my previous articles, I shared some examples of situations where I had a difficult time finding ANY reason to forgive. I also wrote a few words about why a forgiveness is an important choice to consider. Today I’m asking, how I can forgive? How can I let go of offenses that caused so much pain, anger, and suffering in my life? Is forgiveness meant to be a choice each time a new offense comes my way? Or is there a simpler way? This article will discuss some different ways to embrace forgiveness in routine and relationship. Join me on my “journey” through forgiveness.
Part 3 (Practice and possibility)
When a conflict happens and we feel anger rise it shouldn’t always be seen as a BAD thing. Anger helps us know that something is not in balance in that relationship or inside ourselves. Anger is typically the default position of response. Easy to find and expected. It’s important that we respect these emotions of anger or sadness but equally important that we do not allow these emotions to control us.
Forgiveness should never betray our emotions. It’s better that we take a bit of time (preferably less than 24hr) to let our emotions steady before “attempting” to offer forgiveness that isn’t sincere and also betrays our emotions. Our natural response to pain is similar to that of anger. We have a very strong primal reaction at the beginning. But as the pain subsides we cool down and are able to let other more useful emotions take over. Even if you don’t feel like forgiving someone after this “cool down” period you may want to consider what emotions you are willing to carry on your heart until you feel like you are “ready” to forgive. I wrote a more detailed explanation of this in my 2nd article, section “For Ourselves”. (HERE)
Yes. Ourselves. This is one of the most difficult things to do. I have found that until I forgive myself it is very difficult for me to forgive others. If I can’t even be kind or gracious to myself how can I ever do this authentically for someone else? The old saying “nobody is perfect” should never be an excuse. But it can be a good reality check. I will continue to make mistakes yesterday, today and tomorrow. I have a choice to either try to run from my mistakes or take ownership of them. In the past I was very hesitant to take ownership of them because they were always accompanied by guilt, shame, and resentment towards myself. Forgiving myself allowed me to escape these demotivating feelings and still acknowledge my faults and try to improve in the future.
I gave up trying to determine whether or not someone is worthy of my forgiveness. Instead, I made a choice to live a lifestyle of forgiveness. Now instead of wasting my energy on judgment, I spend it on things I enjoy or help build me up. When forgiving others it’s very important to verbalize it. I think the most common excuse for NOT telling someone you forgive them usually sounds like “Well, I”m not mad at them anymore, so I have forgiven them” or “We are getting along fine now, so why do I need to tell them, they know?”. The 2nd half of the phrase “forgive and forget” seems to be the only part practiced. Maybe someone pulled out in front of you on the way to work. That person can be forgiven from your heart even if you do not have a chance to verbalize it.
Just because I have decided to ALWAYS forgive doesn’t mean I will put myself back into harmful, hurtful or unhealthy situations. That is reconciliation. Reconciliation requires trust, and trust can only be rebuilt when harmful behavior changes. Click here for a short article about the difference.
“I have a choice to either try to run from my mistakes or take ownership of them. In the past I hesitated to take ownership of them because they were always accompanied by guilt, shame, and resentment towards myself. Forgiving myself allowed me to escape these demotivating feelings and still acknowledge my faults and try to improve in the future.”
Need for forgiveness/Ability to forgive
I noticed a very interesting connection between my desire/need to be forgiven and my ability/capacity to forgive. When I accept myself and my mistakes and take ownership of them and forgive them, I increase my capacity to forgive others. It seems the same relation exists in regards to our need for love and our ability to love as well as trust (I’ll hopefully explore this topic in another post) 🙂
If you are a believer in historic Christianity and teachings of Jesus, there is additional help and support. There are a few teachings that would certainly imply we ought to forgive ourselves.
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I’ve spent plenty of time and effort worrying and stressing about forgiving others and myself. If a perfectly just God is willing to forgive even the WORST offense we can commit, shouldn’t we also forgive ourselves?
One of my favorite book as of late is “Boundaries” by Townsend and Cloud. I would highly recommend it if you are looking to improve your ability to handle and resolve conflict and generally improve your daily psychological and emotional health.
I hope that you will consider some of these stories and examples of forgiveness and decide for yourself if these practices can improve your life. My wish is that you will be able to find freedom and healing through it. Forgiveness is hard work. But carrying a lifetime of resentment, anger, guilt, and pain is even harder.
The Unsettled Settler