Have you ever gone through something and while you are processing and dealing with it, people have suggested that you forgive? And while you are used to receiving these kinds of suggestions, you also have this annoyed and unsettled feeling. Maybe you wonder how they define forgiveness. Maybe they assume you aren’t forgiving because you are working through things. What is it that is so unsettling about this topic?
My understanding of forgiveness was always so basic. And if I’m honest, it was always talked about in such simple terms as if we had to dismiss the pain of what we went through. And everyone knew it wasn’t easy to do, but if you wanted Jesus to forgive you your sins, you had to forgive everyone else who hurt you. Many times, being told to forgive seemed even cavalier at times.
What is forgiveness?
In the season finale of her podcast, The Gift of Forgiveness, Katherine Schwarzenegger-Pratt spoke with psychiatrist, Dr. Dan Siegel and he said something that really stuck with me:
“Forgiveness is really giving up all hope for a better past.”
But what does that mean?
I remember being told to do many things as a kid but was never told how to do them. HOW…. to forgive was never really addressed, as far as how I understood it anyway. It was this confusing THING… how was it supposed to work?
My understanding was you said you forgive that person and then you would never feel negative feelings towards them again. Boy, was I wrong!
I had a boyfriend who was emotionally abusive. I was in love with him for a few years and kept forgiving him for hurting me. I remember telling him that I could forgive him, but I couldn’t trust him for a while; because forgiving doesn’t include trust. He disagreed with me on this and said that forgiveness is basically forgetting and moving on as it was before. Ummmm, actually no. And forgiving doesn’t mean you need to be friends with that person either. Or continue to be around them.
But it could.
I have a friend I knew from first day grade 9. We had a falling out in our early 20s. It wasn’t fun at all. But you know what? We reconciled a few years later and now our friendship is even stronger. It doesn’t look the same as it did but that’s actually great! Because now we are more open and honest with each other. And even though we don’t agree on everything, we can still be friends and love each other. And I’m so grateful for her friendship and I’m grateful for that disagreement. Because it showed that we could overcome it and we could grow from that.
Forgiveness is a difficult concept to grasp and something extremely challenging to do. It is work.
In her book, The Gift of Forgiveness, Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt says:
“Forgiving too easily can lock you into unhealthy patterns that can last for years. By not properly addressing an issue or event, we avoid things we actually need to confront. We bury things that should, in fact, be unearthed, and we protect people who need to be given boundaries. I’ve learned that forgiveness can sometimes make you feel weak and other times can make you feel strong. It can trap you or it can set you free.
“What I HAVE come to learn is that real forgiveness is much more nuanced than what you learn in kindergarten on the playground. It’s not a single step; it’s not a simple ‘I’m sorry’; forgiveness involves honesty, courage, self-reflection, the ability to listen closely. It involves the desire to forgive, and maybe not forget. And most importantly, it involves a lot of love, over and over again. Practicing forgiveness is its own reward, a gift both for yourself and for the world.”
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. And it must be a choice that a person makes themselves. It isn’t something that can be forced, and it isn’t something to tell other people to do. It is a personal choice for someone, and it is a process to work through. It is choosing to not stay a victim and to be free from that and move forward in life.
How do we take those steps towards forgiveness?
Dr. Dan Siegel suggested journaling and being aware of your thoughts and feelings about what upset you can be a huge help. Also writing out 3 things to be grateful for every day is a great start.
International speaker, teacher and coach, Paul Martinelli wrote a book called, The Missing Chapters: An Epilogue to Think and Grow Rich and in his chapter on Forgiveness, he says that there are 3 pillars of forgiveness:
Pillar 1: recognize that you don’t know the whole story
Pillar 2: learn to separate the being from the behaviour
Pillar 3: Ask for help in removing the poison of resentment
In Paul’s book, he gives this example of a prayer to say daily to let go the burden of holding on (if you do not believe in God, saying things out loud can be powerful and helpful):
“Father, I choose now to release (this person/situation) to their highest good and me to mine. I now give (this person/situation) to you, knowing that holding on does not serve me and keeps me from expressing all of the potential you have given me. I recognize, as a creative being with dominion over all things, that I am fully resourced and empowered to release (this person/situation) now and for eternity in the full awareness that this is not mine to carry. Thank you, Father. It is so.”