The Necessity of Forgiving

"To forgive is to set yourself free, to acknowledge that it does no good to hate."
 Ruby Bridges Hall

Some people resist forgiving others because they think it is unreasonable to do such a favor to one who has wronged them. They may be missing the truth that forgiving is necessary  for healing, and it is the forgiving person who benefits most. When someone has done us wrong, we feel hurt. We can hang on to the hurt forever, or we can get rid of it. When we practice the discipline of forgiveness, we release our hurt and the dirty emotion of vengeance. We open our hearts again and move on as a person capable of love.

Until we are ready to forgive, we are stuck with our anger. That anger may be directed at someone else, but it lives in us. When we cling to anger, it is as if we set ourselves on fire to burn someone else.

So often as a victim, we feel compelled to hold our fury against the abuser as they go on their merry, unconscious way. They may have been unaware they’ve hurt us or may have forgotten about it. We, on the other hand, live with the hurt, keeping the coals burning, preventing ourselves from living a free and open emotional life. When we forgive wrongs against us, we put ourselves back in alignment with the loving universe. We step out of the shadows of hurt and shame, and we move on.

Former US president Jimmy Carter said, "Forgiving is one of the most difficult things for a human being to do, but I think it means looking at some slight you feel, putting yourself in the position of the other person, and wiping away any sort of resentment and antagonism you feel toward them. Then let that other person know that everything is perfectly friendly and normal between you."

That is not to say that we need to stay involved with people who repeatedly hurt us. Forgiving does not require forgetting, and it does not require us to have untrustworthy people close in our lives. We must love ourselves enough to create boundaries between ourselves and abusers. Still, whenever possible, reconciliation should be part of the forgiving process.

Forgiving requires a disciplined mind and a compassionate heart. It is an act of will and an act of healing. It may heal the one who wronged us. It may heal the relationship. Most of all it may heal our own wounded heart.

Ask yourself:

Who has wronged me?
Toward whom do I bear a grudge?
How long have I carried that weight?
Am I the same person I was when I was harmed?
Is the person who harmed me the same person they were then?
What emotions do I associate with this relationship? Any of these:
Frustration? Anger? Rage? Shame? Guilt? Loneliness? Longing? Suspicion?
Do I think about getting revenge?
Would that make me a better person?
Is it time to forgive?
What would I have to give up in order to forgive?
What would I gain?
Spend some quiet time thinking about the person you have not yet forgiven. Notice the emotions that arise when you think of them. See if you can name the emotions.

Think about this person who hurt you. What is the world like from their perspective? What do you suppose their early life was like? How do you imagine they view the injury they caused you?

What would you want to say to them if they were here with you now?
What would you want them to say?
What are the realistic chances that they would say what you want them to say?
Can you give up your need for an apology?

Having imagined this conversation in your mind, evaluate the wisdom of having such a conversation in real life. What would be the potential gains? What might be lost? What are the risks?

May I be forgiven my ignorance.
May I forgive the ignorance of others.
May I be forgiven for harm I have done.
May I forgive those who have harmed me.
May I live in compassion.
May I extend my compassion to all beings.

Links of interest:

A Campaign for Forgiveness Research
Steps to Forgiveness from the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance website
Fellowship of Reconciliation

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© 2002 Tom Barrett