While Eastern medicine has long understood the strong relationship between health and forgiveness, it’s not commonly accepted in the modern Western culture. We in the West want a pill to make the hurt go away, and our medical industry makes $ billions trying to meet that demand. Yet, whether we’re talking about anxiety, depression, grief, stress, abuse recovery, addiction, eating disorders, even many physical illnesses, like cardiovascular diseases…pills are often only useful to mask the symptoms. In many cases, non-forgiveness over some event in the past is either the direct cause or a major contributing factor in the disease or condition. In fact, forgiveness is often needed before recovery is possible.
Forgiveness Is Recovery: This is because resentment ties us psychologically to the hurtful person and event, compelling us to mentally replay the hurt over and over, deepening and widening the emotional scars until there is no escaping the feelings of powerlessness, victimhood and abuse. Such emotions bring on psychological dysfunctions and pour chemicals into our blood systems that reduce our ability to fight off physical illness. When we exercise forgiveness of this person, it’s an exercise of great power on our part. It releases us from being bound to them and the wrong they did us. Forgiveness isn’t about them…it’s about us making a choice to live above such harmful feelings. Because it’s about us, the one we’re forgiving doesn’t have to apologize or even admit to having done anything wrong. We’re not doing it for them!
Forgiveness Is A Condition: We often confuse forgiveness with trust, thinking we can’t forgive someone because it would set us up to be hurt again. Obviously, particularly in the case of certain forms of abuse, trusting someone who has hurt us can set up further abuses and even encourage the person to repeat and escalate the abuse. Forgiveness isn’t trust. Instead, forgiveness is more like wellness, peacefulness and calmness…a state of being. In this state, it really doesn’t matter what was done to us in the past. We’ve let it go! This doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten, as the old adage “forgive and forget” suggests. We can’t learn from the past if we keep forgetting the painful episodes. Just like trust, forgetting an offense may set us up for more such offenses. Forgiveness is just the emotional condition created by releasing past hurts every time we remember, allowing us to put our thoughts and emotions to more productive uses.
Forgiveness Is A Gift: The word “give” is in the middle of the word “forGIVEness” and at the center of the concept. The person being forgiven does not have to deserve it or even ask for it…they don’t even have to know. It’s a gift! If you have a debt forgiven, it means you no longer have to pay. When we forgive someone, we are freely relieving them of any debt they owe us as a result of the harm they caused. For this reason, forgiveness doesn’t deny they caused us harm, but it relieves us of the need to get them back in some way. This kind of gift benefits the giver far more than the recipient.
Often, the reason we find it hard to forgive others is our own need for forgiveness. Strange as it may seem, we’ve all hurt and abused others. We may not have done so on purpose, or in the same ways we’ve been hurt, but we’ve all been the villain for someone. Sometimes, the one I hurt the most is me. I’m also finding that I’m the one who is holding the most resentment toward me. Can you relate? So, if we haven’t been forgiven and haven’t forgiven ourselves, how do we muster the ability to forgive others? Forgiveness is a lot like love in this respect…loving someone doesn’t reduce the total amount of love, it increases it. In fact, loving someone else increases the love we feel…hmmm. Whether we believe in God or not, many of us have heard of the Lord’s Prayer. By praying, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” Jesus seems to be teaching that forgiveness for ourselves and our forgiveness of others are linked. We can’t have one without the other. In this respect, forgiveness is definitely a two-way gift.
Forgiveness Is A Process: Just because it’s a gift, doesn’t mean forgiving others will be easy. For me, in many cases, it’s been the hardest thing to do. There are people who hurt me over a decade ago I’m still in the process of forgiving. Oh, I decided long ago that I forgive them, but, even now an occasional resentment wells up in me over what they did. Others, who took equally long for me to complete the process, now have no resentment linked to their memories. In many cases, it’s been replaced with compassion and pity. We often think forgiveness is impossible because it isn’t immediate. We try to forgive and then, with the next memory, we feel the pain and resentment all over again. Forgiveness isn’t a pill that temporarily masks the pain, but, over time, it will eliminate that pain. The deeper the hurt we experience, the harder it is and the longer it takes to eliminate the pain and resentment. This doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven…just that the process isn’t complete. Genuine forgiveness isn’t shown by the lack of resentment, but by the willingness to stay in the process and see it to completion.
Forgiveness Is A Way Of Life: Sadly, it seems many of us never get to the great release and joy that the process of forgiveness brings. Ask them about their past and it’s a series of villains and offences. There always seems to be someone blocking their every attempt at happiness. This isn’t to say these hurts weren’t real. There is no way any of us gets out of life without being hurt, deeply. It rains on us all! That we were hurt isn’t the real tragedy…it’s when we let that hurt fester and swell until it overwhelms our experience of life. This is where the condition of forgiveness as a way of life is most powerful.
When we make forgiveness a way of life, no one can make us live in powerlessness, nursing emotional wounds until they’re the focus of our lives. We have a newfound power over our lives, taken by choice form those who would make us victims. The negative emotions are replaced by productivity and confidence, building our immune systems and insulating us from stress, anxieties and depression. No one is promising a life of forgiveness is easy…just easier than the alternative…and far healthier.