Recently I have struggled to forgive someone who wronged me. I have had countless emotions about the specific situation, but anger is the easiest emotion for me to "own”. It’s certainly a lot harder to admit that many mornings I woke up reliving the pain before I even put my feet on the ground. It’s exhausting to be angry, sad, hurt, exposed, broken. In this specific situation I was not going to receive an apology or reconciliation so.I..had to initiate the process of forgiving.
Yes, there is a certain amount of pride that has to be pushed aside to forgive without an "I’m sorry”, but I am more terrified of becoming jaded, un-trusting, mean or just sad …. someone I am NOT … to worry about my hurt pride.
So where do I start?
Our last 2 blogs focused on ways to reduce "pain” through building Community and intentionally seeking Encouragement. For me these are 2 of the most important ways to get the courage to forgive.
Now that we know forgiveness is good for our health and psychologists recommend it then (*snaps fingers*) we’re ready to do it today, right?
Forgiveness is a process. It’s a new process with every new "wrong”.
I looked through several websites for more information about forgiveness … How do I go about it? Is there a recommended place to start? How do I know when I’m finished?
The most practical information I found was on AA websites (Alcoholic Anonymous). A blog called "Mr. SponsorPant” had an encouraging quote:
"When I forgive I don't excuse evil, or tolerate abuse. I don't say 'oh, that's ok, it doesn't matter now' in a weak attempt to minimize and forget rather than admit and confront the truth. I don't pretend there was never any pain. I look at the wrong and call it what it was, and let however I feel be however I feel, without judgment. And then, when I'm ready -- though I never really think I'm ever ready -- I reach for compassion; I consider what sickness was at work in the wrong-doer, what harms and evil they suffered, what ignorance they labored under and consider how those things drove them -- just as similar things have driven me. That is the beginning of my ability to truly forgive. It happens in stages; sloppily and organically and at its own pace and also, ultimately, with God's help and in God's time.
Here are some truths that I have learned about where to start:
1. Just start – search and find information that "speaks" to you and your situation. In the quote from "Mr SponsorPants" he says "I reach for compassion” and that has become a little mantra.
2.Speak – Tell your community, or your journal, how much it hurts. Don't just say "I’m angry because….”. Hurt is complicated! If we’re being honest it often sounds like "I was hurt when …[fill in the blank] ….. it opened up some old wounds/discovered new vulnerabilities …[fill in the blank] …I fear that this pain may have changed me …[fill in the blank] …..” And, that’s barely scratching the surface.
3. Seek – Find accountability. Ask a friend to bring up the painful event/situation/person every so often and talk through it … yes, again… even months later. Gauge where you are. Are you still holding the old grudge? Is there a new grudge? Is forgiveness still far off or is it close? Tell the friend about the feelings that come up.
4. Truth – Choose truth. It’s easier to self-medicate or literally medicate than to accept some of life’s truths:
•we are just humans,
•everyone we know is probably just a human too,
•we are not owed a happy or pain-free life,
•we can be hurt deeply and survive,
•we can heal,
•we will receive undeserved forgiveness in life
I do not know what is going to help you start the process. I know for me, I have decided to choose compassion.
This week I asked some friends if they had any "Do's or Don'ts of Forgiveness?” or a story from their own life that helped them learn forgiveness. Here are their responses.
Jonathan McClellan, Owner Elite Fitness of Atlanta (elitefitnessofatlanta.com)& Whitefield Academy Head of Strength and Conditioning
The first thing I think about when I hear the word forgiveness is how tough it can be to forgive myself. I am my toughest critic. Jesus' charge was to love others as we love ourselves, which means forgiveness starts with me giving myself immense measures of grace.
Growing up, I remember the church teaching me the golden rule. You know the one, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I tried to reflect this characteristic with the relationships I built around me, but somewhere along my story I strayed. In my late teens I began pushing the boundaries my parents had thoughtfully placed around my life out of love and protection. I fought so strongly for my own independence that in my early twenties while in college I pushed myself right into a broken relationship with those who raised me and loved me most. It wasn't until one night, during some quiet time did I accept this brokenness I had helped create and asked God for forgiveness. I remember the moment as if it was yesterday; I've heard God's voice twice in pivotal moments in my life, and this was my first. He clearly and lovingly replied "go home." So the next morning, I called my parents, an act that was far too foreign at that time, to ask if I could come home to talk. They graciously accepted, the prodigal daughter had returned *half kiddingly, half awkwardly laughs*. Through God's forgiveness I was able to accept my parents forgiveness and begin to heal. It wasn't overnight, but the relationship I share with my parents now is something I highly cherish. Now, in my early 30s and with a family of my own, my parents are some of my very best friends. I'm forever grateful for the example they've shown me over the years of the gift of forgiveness...for myself, the relationships I still have, and those I don't. Forgiveness has enriched my life, my faith, and my spirit. It's one of God's greatest gifts and I hope to always practice giving and accepting this gift for as long as I serve here on Earth.
Jason N., A Self-Inflicted Guinea Pig & Fitness Lab Rat
When you forgive, you're showing the value you place on other people forgiving you of wrongdoing in the past. While there are repercussions, the forgiveness must be all the way, not on the installment plan. It should be with no strings attached. The freedom that comes from forgiving others removes any emotional debt obligation towards you. You free them, and you free yourself. Let the past lie in the past; don't live in the past.