Perhaps one of the hardest things to do in life is learning to forgive others and yourself.
When someone has hurt us beyond measure, there is a strong emotion tied to the pain. If left untended, it turns to anger and resentment. It can also lead to depression and cause illness.
Many people do not understand that the act of forgiving is not just for the other person, it is also for themselves. When we harbour pain and resentment, we get ill. We also become unhappy individuals, and that affects everyone around us. Learning to forgive others and ourselves is a liberating exorcise.
Some things and some people are easier to forgive than others. A friend who in the moment says something to hurt our feelings but then realizes their mistake and apologizes is easier to forgive. This is because we love and trust them…at least until the trust is firmly broken.
How then do you forgive the parent who abandoned you or the man who raped you? What about the drug dealer who lures your child down a dark, almost unrecoverable path into a life of addiction? What about a person who constantly abuses you, whether it be emotionally or physically or worse, someone who murdered a loved one? These are hard to forgive, but it must be done.
It took me a long time to understand how to forgive what seemed to be an unforgivable act. What I learned, though, is that the harboured pain was leading to illness and causing unnecessary problems in my life. When I finally forgave the person, a burden was lifted. I was able to look at them and the facts without emotion.
Forgiving doesn’t mean continuing to put yourself in harms’ way. It teaches us we can walk away and forgive at the same time. When necessary, we leave so that we can be safe and out of danger. We cannot quickly leave at times, so we also learn that we must not engage and continually forgive.
When someone is genuinely sorry and apologizes, it is much easier to forgive them. Some people don’t even acknowledge their wrongdoing, or worse, take joy in the effect it has on us. Those are the tougher ones.
In the past, I have said, ‘I forgive you’ through gritted teeth. I was doing my best to forgive, but the anger was preventing me from fully forgiving. It isn’t enough to just say it. You have to mean it. Having said that, saying it is a start. I just keep saying it until I believe it.
When I really struggle to forgive someone, I have two things that help me get there. The first is the Lord’s Prayer, which states, ‘forgive us our trespasses (or debtors) as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ I want to be forgiven for any wrongdoing I might have done in my life, not just by the people I hurt but by Jesus. If I can’t forgive someone, how can I expect Jesus to forgive me?
The second is the crucifixion itself. I picture Jesus on the cross, asking God to forgive those who put him there. In his pain and dying breath, He asks forgiveness for us. If He can do that, then surely I can forgive even the worst of sins against me.
Be gentle with each other, and yourself. Remember to forgive a person if they hurt you. If you find it difficult, keep trying. If you seek forgiveness and it isn’t given, forgive that person even for that and know they may not be ready or at the same place you are. Don’t forget to forgive yourself at the same time.
Do yourself a favour and give yourself the gift of peace through forgiveness. If you struggle, don’t be too hard on yourself. Never forget, we are all at different stages, and many are still learning to forgive.
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