Forgiving can sometimes seem impossible. Some crimes just are so egregious we really struggle to find a way to forgive the perpetrator, right? If someone is so completely “wrong” then why should I forgive him or her? What if they just keep doing the same awful things again and again – how can I forgive that?
Take a moment to think about what the word forgiveness means to you. What is your definition of forgiving?
The New Oxford American Dictionary that is built right into my MacBook defines forgiveness as: to stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.
Now let this definition sink in a minute. Forgiveness means to stop feeling angry. What a great idea that is! What if we re-phrase the question “Can I forgive him/her?” and instead ask “Would I like to stop being angry?” The answer is almost always YES! Of course, this is easier said than done. Forgiving may require learning new skills to process anger until we are left with peaceful feelings – but it’s worth it!
A lot of us have some resistance to forgiving. We feel that forgiving means we condone someone’s bad behavior or somehow justifies or excuses what they’ve done. Or we may withhold forgiveness until we feel we fully understand what happened or their actions somehow “make sense” to us.
The good news is we don’t need anything in order to forgive. Forgiving someone – yourself or someone else – is simply letting go of the anger around what has happened. You don’t have to forget or turn a blind eye. If the person you live with punches you every time you come home, you can forgive that person, but it’s wise to also stop living with them!
You just have to know that withholding forgiveness means keeping yourself imprisoned in a state of anger. You are the jailor and you are also the inmate. If you haven’t already noticed, this has nothing to do with the other person or situation that has upset you. Forgiving someone else means setting yourself free.
If the truth will set you free, then so will forgiveness. The truth is, upsetting deeds continue on only in the heart of the person who has not forgiven. In other words, while the “bad deed” may be long finished and gone, the unforgiving person replays it over and over in his or her mind and body. So even though you may have felt cheated once, perhaps you have been cheating yourself ever since by withholding your forgiveness. The solution: begin to forgive yourself and then forgive others.
Forgiveness IS NOT:
Condoning or agreeing with hurtful behavior.
Ignoring your pain.
Something you “should” do.
A way to get the upper hand.
Creating a new story to justify what happened.
Making excuses or reasons so that the event “makes sense.”
Healthy Forgiveness IS:
Non-resistance to what has happened
Accepting ‘what is’ without a story of blame, guilt or final judgment
Living in the moment, realizing that whatever has occurred up until this time is over.
Freeing yourself and life to begin again.
Seeing each moment as a clean slate, an opportunity for growth, learning, and freedom to live in love.
Willingness to give life another chance, to reserve final judgment.
How to begin to forgive
Begin with meditation and mindfulness practices focused on accepting your own feelings with love and kindness. When you can approach your own feelings with a kind and loving attitude, then turn your attention to friends and family and share that attitude with them in your mind and your heart. As you improve at this practice, you will learn how to regard situations – even those old enough to have gathered some moss – with love and kindness, with forgiveness. And there’s no better time than Now to begin.
Are you ready to set yourself free by forgiving?