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.”
There is a leader in all of us. We are the leaders of our own lives But we are also leaders to those around us because the decisions and choices we make do impact the lives of other people as well. Whether we like it or not. We are all connected.
I never saw myself as a leader. In fact, we were always told that people are either leaders or followers. Since I was a shy, quiet rule-follower, I just “knew” I would never be a leader. I also was the type of person who got railroaded by the louder, more obvious people and so I just thought they were the ones who would rule us all and I was just one of the people who would fall into line.
Then over the years, I learned how important it was to step outside of my comfort zone. So I started to do more things and gained more confidence and found out I had more to give than I ever thought possible. (Although this also developed my snarky, opinionated side a bit more too. OOPSIES!) It takes time to develop your style and to learn what to do and what not to do. Sometimes we want huge opportunities to come along because we feel we are ready for them.
Do I sometimes long to lead a group of people?
Am I ready for it?
And I don’t want anything that I’m not ready for at this time. If we aren’t fully prepared and ready for a responsibility, we either better learn fast or we need to take a step back and evaluate if that is the right time and the right position.
I was recently in a training course with a few other people. It was online and so we had our cameras off and MICs muted. The teacher kept asking if we understood and was always questioning if we were paying attention and if we were even there. Rightly so. I can’t imagine having to speak into a void and not getting any responses. Since I’m the type of person who hates that myself, I made sure I responded back that yes, I was there and yes, I understood the material. I found myself getting super annoyed with all the other people in the group. And then it hit me: This was an opportunity for me to lead!
Was it a super small, barely-acknowledged tiny opportunity? YES! But it was an opportunity all the same. And once I saw it as an opportunity to lead, even in a small way, my attitude about it changed. I was no longer annoyed with everyone else. Instead, I was grateful for the chance to show up and take ownership. And the attitude about it was the key.
Do I tend to get annoyed and frustrated about things very easily?
Can I do something about it?
And the more I recognize and acknowledge the attitude that shows up so quickly, I can choose to change it. And the more I choose the better attitude over the negative one, the faster and easier it becomes.
But it starts with those small opportunities. The ones that people really don’t even recognize or see. It starts with you and how you see it and how you show up. It starts with your attitude and how you view it. And once you are able to handle those small chances you take, you can chip away at the bigger ones. And before you know it, people will see you as a leader and recognize the ways you’ve changed and impacted them. I’m still in the beginning stages but I plan to continue working on myself and my attitude.
It is also important to give yourself grace. I love to say that I’m a work in progress. The first step is recognizing these things. Then the challenge is implementing them in our everyday lives. And that is a process. So start to do it today but know it will take many levels in many tomorrows before you actually change. Keep up that hope up that it will come. And also continue to be kind to yourself and give yourself that grace to be human.