I wanted to come up with some catchy title for this blog, but when it comes down to it, forgiveness seems adequate. Forgiveness can be defined as ceasing to feel resentment toward someone who has wronged us. Often times in counseling with clients who have been deeply wounded, they cringe when the “f” word is suggested. “Me forgive them?” would be their response. “But you don’t know how badly they have hurt me. They don’t deserve to be forgiven.” I remember the day when I heard someone speak on forgiveness and I understood more clearly what it was and was not, and most of all, why it is so important.
Let me first begin by explaining what forgiveness is not, or some commonly believed myths about forgiveness. The first myth is that forgiveness is forgetting. We are humans and do not have the capacity to forget. And in the case of someone who has suffered abuse, important lessons may have been learned from the experience that do not need to escape from our memory. We do not forget, but we no longer dwell on those memories as we once did. The second myth is forgiveness means continuing the relationship. Just because forgiveness takes place, there may need to be new boundaries established, which could mean cutting off the relationship completely, or just not spending as much time together. A third myth is forgiveness means not feeling mad or hurt. Acknowledging and processing feelings of anger, sadness, disappointment, etc. is necessary to move forward with forgiveness. There are some things that cannot be bypassed. They must be worked through, and this is one of those things. The fourth myth is that forgiveness should happen immediately. Some offenses can be forgiven easily and quickly. However, other offenses take time, and in some cases, a lot of time. Our willingness to want to forgive is one thing, but our desire is another, and often comes along at a much slower pace. The last myth about forgiveness is that an apology is required. In some cases, an apology can help to restore and reconcile a relationship, but this is not always possible, such as in the case of someone who has died. In other circumstances, it may not be wise or possible for the offended person to have contact with the offender. In some cases, the offender is not sorry, repentant, or interested in rebuilding a relationship.
I once heard that holding on to anger and resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. That is the equivalent of refusing to forgive. The only person that is being harmed is you. There are many emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits to choosing to forgive. That’s right, it is a choice! Emotionally and spiritually, there is a peace that comes over you. The thought of a particular person, or an offense, no longer causes that tightness in your body. There is a freedom that comes with true forgiveness. Physically, forgiveness lowers stress levels, keeps your heart healthy, lowers pain, lowers blood pressure, and extends your life.
Like I said earlier, some offenses are of very little consequence and can be easily forgiven, and never be considered again. However, other offenses cause deep wounds that require much time and emotional energy to work through and get to the point of finally letting go of pain and hurt. If you find yourself in a place of unforgiveness, where you are not able to let go of an offense, seeking the help of a counselor or a trusted friend can help you through to the other side. I encourage you to take that step and begin the process of forgiveness.