“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~Paul Boese
Of all the challenges I offer in this 6-week series, this one has the potential of being the most transformative.
If you harbor deep resentment, if your life is scared by the pain of past offenses, if hate is eating you up, you know exactly what I mean.
The Effects of Resentment
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” ~Malachy McCourtro
When you hold on to resentment, anger or hatred, letting it eat you up from the inside out, your mind gets stuck in a continuous loop. You replay the offense over and over again, unable to free yourself from the person you most want to get away from. You feel stuck in a dark place and feel like there’s no way out of that living hell.
Your soul is cankered. Your heart feels cleaved in two. Your mind wanders in a fog, trapped in a mental loop. You can’t interact with the person who has offended you without feeling your insides boil. Your guts are twisted in knots. Your sense of justice violated.
What Forgiveness Is Not
Forgiveness is not pretending the people or person in your past never really hurt you. It’s not accepting them fully into your life either. If they are hostile people, it would be very unwise to bring them too close no matter the relation.
It’s not closing eyes or being naïve or putting on rose-colored glasses and asking an abuser to babysit your kids.
I’m not even saying lawsuits or pursuing legal justice is not the right course of action. Circumstances dictate such things. But even if pursuing legal recourse, you can let the ill will go. You can let the anger and condemnation go. You can pursue justice with a pure heart.
What Forgiveness Is
Forgiveness is the act of letting go of the pain and resentment. It’s to step away from the mental loop. It’s to sincerely want the best for the person or people who hurt or offended you.
Now, what’s best for the offender may very well be legal remedies to help them step up and take moral, legal or financial responsibility for their behavior, or to force them to stop and get help.
But to forgive is to open your heart as you would your hand and let all the pent-up negative emotion drift away. It’s to wash out the putrid decay from your heart and let go.
Forgiveness sucks the poison from your wounded heart. It replaces the hate and resentment and anger and obsessive desire for retribution with peace and happiness. Not a bad trade-off by anyone’s standards!
What Forgiveness Does
Forgiveness frees you. It lifts you. It throws off a weight that has weighed you down and robbed you of even elusive peace and infrequent joy.
Forgiveness opens you to leaving behind the pain and sorrow and guilt and anger and all the ugliness that is associated with the offense and the offender.
It also allows you to move on. To finally breathe. To begin life again, almost as if being reborn into a new, cleaner life, stripped and washed clear of the grey ooze of resentment.
The Challenge of Forgiveness
But forgiving someone who has legitimately hurt you can be very difficult, especially if the abuse you sustained was prolonged or the person is a family member who should have been your biggest protector.
How do you forgive an offense when it has buried itself deep in the grit of your personality, when it has been mixed into the very mortar between the bricks from which you have built your life?
How do you forgive a person of wrongs when the offense was so intimately personal and intentional and wounding?
How do you forgive the unrepentant, the unremorseful, the unchanged, the unapologetic, when justice was never served, when wrongs were never confessed, when abuse was never admitted or is ongoing?
The Fear of Forgiveness
Resentment and all that comes with holding onto the pain of not forgiving is understandable, of course, but it’s also deeply self-destructive. It’s hurting you more than it can ever hurt the offender. Every second you continue to hold onto the pain, you continue to drag yourself under the crushing wheels of life’s bus.
Sometimes we think forgiveness is letting the offender off the hook. But just what hook are they being let off? Just because you spend so much time feeling the pain doesn’t mean they do. They may be in the bus, but only you are stuck under its wheels.
Prison Cells of the Heart
To be filled with anger and resentment, to hold a grudge and refuse forgiveness is like tossing the offender into a prison cell in your heart and throwing away the key.
The only problem is that the prison you keep your offender locked in, also imprisons you. If visions of punishment fill your heart for them, then visions of punishment fill your heart. The resentment is kept inside of you. That’s not what’s supposed to be there.
The Gift of Forgiveness
No one can earn your forgiveness. It is not a right. You are not going to forgive someone because they have done the work of repentance and now deserve what you may not be ready to offer.
Besides, you are not forgiving them for them anyway. This isn’t their gift. You are forgiving them for you. You are going to finally cut the emotional cord that has bound you to your offender for far too long.
The greatest gift of forgiveness is not to the forgiven, but to the forgiver. It is for you to cherish and feel and enjoy. It is your freedom you are offering yourself.
You’ve Held on Long Enough
It’s time to free yourself of the blood-clotting hatred that blocks your happiness, peace and contentment. It’s time to loosen your grip and let go. It’s time to put down the gavel and let God be the judge and jury for a change.
Stop worrying about what others in your past have been or what they failed to be. It’s history now. It happened and has been written into the pages of the past.
But it’s a book that you don’t have to read and reread over and over again. Close that book and start writing a new one. Fill the right now is-ness of life with something more liberating and rewarding and beautiful. Create your own story and start living that story instead.
The way I’m going to approach this challenge is to invite you back daily to learn another strategy to help you with the work of forgiving.
Each day will be another tip, a piece of advice, as story, a suggestion or two that can help you finally let go and be free of your inner prison.
I’m approaching the challenge this way because I’m convinced that most people will read through a list of ideas, possibly try one or two suggestions, often half-heartedly, then move on, never truly applying the steps and ideas that can actually help them forgive and return peace and happiness where anger currently resides.
So the challenge will be for you to try each of the daily tips one day at a time on your way to complete forgiveness, not merely opening the cell door, but completely demolishing the prison from inside your heart, expunging the poison and cutting the cord that binds you to the pain and resentment forever.
So are you ready to start?
Now that you’ve committed to the challenge, I’ll leave you with the first step. Try it out and come back tomorrow for another step or tip you can try to move you closer to your goal.
FORGIVENESS 101: Day One
Write a letter to your offender, whether they are here or passed on doesn’t matter because you won’t send it. But pour everything out onto the paper. Write the details, the feelings, the effects of the offense, everything. This may fill two-paragraphs or two novels. The important part is to get it all on paper.
Writing can be surprisingly clarifying, putting things into perspective, seeing the whole, possibly for the first time, capturing what may have been brushed under the carpet. It can also be quite cathartic.
This writing exercise is the first step because it forces you to start this process with a very clear picture of what and who you are forgiving and the circumstances surrounding it.
This step just may be the most difficult step you take because it requires that you relive what you may have spent years trying to forget. Don’t be surprised if the floodgates open and the tears flow. Sometimes just writing it down does so much to unstop our plugged up insides because we never allowed ourselves to express the pain in the past.
By the way, this step (and all subsequent ones) work just as well if the person you need to forgive is yourself.
Your turn …
So, are you in?
Please share your thoughts or concerns with us:
- Is there someone you feel the need to forgive?
- What have the obstacles been to letting go so far?
- Or, if you feel you have successfully forgiven, how were you able to do it?
Let us know in the comments and return tomorrow for Step Two!
Check out each of the Challenges in the series:
Challenge #1: What Do You Have to Complain About?
Challenge #2: Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?
Challenge #3: Are you Finally Ready to Forgive?
Challenges #4-6 will be added as they are posted.
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