The Unforgiven

The day I let go of some injustices in my life was the day I gained a monumental amount of power. I remember the day clearly that I stopped wishing the other person would hurt as much as I did. I didn’t realize it, but I had been suffocating from anger and hurt as if breathing through a heavy, wet blanket.

I’m not unique in that I have been hurt many times. I’ve been through my share of pain, grief and abuses. I’m betting you have too. In fact, if you haven’t had anything painful happen in life — never had your heart broken, your feelings stepped on or your life altered — then just give it some time. Life happens and with it comes pain.

As Tim Hanse said, “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.” And indeed it is. But first, you have to let go and that takes courage. Forgiveness is hard. But what does it really mean?

It means letting go of the past, realizing you can’t change a single thing.
It means learning a lesson – sometimes hard-learned – and cataloging the blessings.
It means letting go of expectations (what you thought should be but wasn’t).
It means hitting “restart” each day.
It means setting a prisoner free and realizing the prisoner was you all along. (Lewis B. Smedes)

Forgiveness DOESN’T mean forgetting. Before you say “But what happened to ‘forgive & forget’?” Know this: There’s no such thing. Painful memories serve to protect us from future hurts. Hear this: Forgiveness doesn’t mean being friends again, dating that person again, going to that place again, pretending it didn’t happen or denying the pain it caused.

What does a real apology look like? The offender offers sincere remorse, promises not to repeat the offense (or similar ones) and makes amends. Then you give it time. If you don’t see true repentance and a change in the offending behavior, understand that forgiveness benefits YOU, not to the offender – so move onward and upward.

Forgiveness is about YOU. Forgiveness means being able to live without anger and/or fear. Can you imagine the freedom in that? I couldn’t. My life had become what seemed like a series of hurts and fears. In turn, I hurt others because I was so wounded and unable to move on.

It didn’t happen overnight. It happened in small pockets, small moments of release. Anger, anxiety and fear sap the strength out of your bones. You become weary and exhausted. And the only one drowning is you.

So I took a deep breath and started learning forgiveness. I have to practice it nearly each day too. From the student who is disrespectful to the person who talks behind my back — I make daily choices to move on and let go.

What keeps you from forgiving?

1. Anger. Anger is a result of our pain. Am I saying to never get angry? Absolutely not! I am saying: Confront the person, the deed or yours unrealistic expectations, learn from it and hit restart. As I blogged about previously, anger is a by-product of losing control or having it taken from you. Alex Lickerman, M.D., in “How To Forgive Others,” says, “It’s inherently difficult, if not impossible, to forgive someone with whom we’re still angry.”

2. Justice. When we believe our offender doesn’t deserve our forgiveness, we may find ourselves withholding forgiveness to avoid appearing like we condone their wrong-doing. Your hatred toward your enemy does not harm him or her in the slightest. Chances are, they have gone on with life and haven’t given you another thought. “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.” (Nelson Mandela)

3. Punishment. To release our anger and forgive our offender may feel like letting them get away without consequences, especially if no other punishment is forthcoming. The best revenge is to live a successful and happy life. Show them and show yourself that the obstacles they tried to create were not significant enough to disable or destroy you.

4. Harm. We wish to harm as we’ve been harmed. Resisting the temptation to do actual harm, we tend to harbor anger as a second-best option. Holding a grudge does in a certain sense feel good, but only at first. YOU are the only one hurting in that game.

5. Apology. The power of a honest apology is a strong reward for our pain, but forgiveness is often one-sided before it’s two-sided. Forgiving before or without an apology is where the true power lies.

6. Self loathing. The longest apology you’ll ever wait for is the one you withhold from yourself. As you try to make a new path out of the dark woods of this old hurt, you’ll make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Be patient and kind to yourself.

I didn’t know I was drowning years ago when I couldn’t forgive. I am forever grateful for the life preserver a friend threw to me — someone who, as it turns out, had the grace to forgive me when I was hurtful to them, so that I could pay it forward and forgive others.

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