There’s a twist to this post about forgiveness that you probably won’t see until I blurt it out. So with that foreshadowing, let me start sharing what is weighing on my heart.
The other day I shared some beautiful pictures of my daughter, told you why I don’t read PTSD forums, shared a bit about my dad, and let you know why I have written less than usual.
Today I’m going to express my feelings using a lot of quotes from all eras of time about forgiveness.
What is forgiveness?
Let’s start with a definition.
: the act of forgiving someone or something
: the attitude of someone who is willing to forgive other people
That didn’t tell us much.
Maybe we should start with the definition of the word forgive.
: to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong)
: to stop blaming (someone)
: to stop feeling anger about (something)
: to forgive someone for (something wrong)
Okay, now it makes more sense.
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
– C.S. Lewis
Well, since I’m a Christian, C.S. Lewis made it pretty clear why I should forgive.
But what is in it for me? What am I going to get out of forgiving someone?
“Sometimes we carry unhappy feelings about past hurts too long. We spend too much energy dwelling on things that have passed and cannot be changed. We struggle to close the door and let go of the hurt. If, after time, we can forgive whatever may have caused the hurt, we will tap ‘into a life-giving source of comfort’ through the Atonement, and the ‘sweet peace’ of forgiveness will be ours.”
– James E. Faust
That sounds great James E. Faust, but what if I’m not a Christian and I don’t believe in the Atonement? Why should I forgive? What’s in it for me?
“A life lived without forgiveness is a prison.”
– William Arthur Ward
How is it a prison?
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
– Nelson Mandela
Do you know who Nelson Mandela was? He was the President of South Africa and at one point Mandela was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela ended up serving 27 years in prison, so he knew a bit about prison. Mandela likened having an unforgiving heart to being in prison because bitterness and hatred take up so much room in your heart that love can’t be there at the same time. What is a heart without love?
So if your heart is filled with bitterness and hate, there’s probably an unhealthy dose of resentment in there too.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
– Nelson Mandela
That was sarcastic.
Maybe Nelson Mandela didn’t know what he was talking about. Does anyone else think an unforgiving heart cultivates bitterness, hatred and resentment?
“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
– Corrie ten Boom
Well, I don’t think you can argue with Corrie ten Boom. I remember learning about her in elementary school. Do you remember that she was a Dutch Christian who helped lots of Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II? Yep, that’s what she did and they put Corrie in jail for doing so.
Is hate really that bad when someone has hurt you?
“Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated.”
– Coretta Scott King
I have to agree with Coretta Scott King. I’ve hated a few people before and it was a very consuming feeling. The other person didn’t suffer at all while I hated them. Actually, they had no idea I was spending so much time keeping the hate alive. It monopolized hours of my day. Eventually, I had to let it go just so that I could function.
That’s easy to answer! You hate because the injury is so painful and you don’t know how to cope with it!
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis
Absolutely true C.S. Lewis! Advice is cheap, but try acting on the advice and see how hard it is to follow.
“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
– Corrie ten Boom
Forgiving someone IS definitely a choice and according to many others, it is an important act to incorporate in your life.
Can I pick and choose who to forgive?
“And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven.”
– C.S. Lewis
Yeah, but once again, what if you aren’t Christian. What do you say now C.S. Lewis?
“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”
– Alexander Pope
Good try Alexander Pope, but what if someone doesn’t believe in any kind of divine being?
“The willingness to forgive is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity. It is one of the great virtues to which we all should aspire. Imagine a world filled with individuals willing both to apologize and to accept an apology. Is there any problem that could not be solved among people who possessed the humility and largeness of spirit and soul to do either — or both — when needed?”
– Gordon B. Hinckley
Okay, I guess Gordon B. Hinckley made sense. Since so many people have an unforgiving heart, I guess they do not have spiritual or emotional maturity.
“One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.”
Wait! What about justice? Where is the justice in all this forgiving stuff?
“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”
– Abraham Lincoln
Big deal Abraham Lincoln. Maybe I will just settle for fruits that aren’t so rich and I can get my revenge.
“An eye for an eye, and the whole world would be blind.”
– Kahlil Gibran
Wow! I’m getting no support at all!
Alright, so what if I agree to forgive. When can I stop forgiving? What amount of forgiveness is too much?
“It is surely better to pardon too much, than to condemn too much.”
– George Eliot
I guess parents follow that concept everyday. We pardon our children over and over again because we want them to understand the concepts without being so stringent in the justice of the situation.
“Forgiveness is a funny thing. It warms the heart and cools the sting.”
– William Arthur Ward
The heart is such a complex organ. Does being a forgiving person really help us? Seriously. What’s in it for me if I don’t seek revenge?
“A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time in atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring.”
– Henry David Thoreau
I must commend Henry David Thoreau on his great analogy.
Where do I start if I choose to forgive someone?
“Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another.”
– Emma Goldman
Understand? You have got to be kidding!
Wait. Let me think about my own life.
Dad. Yes, as I grew older and went to therapy, I started to understand why he flunked as a father. After understanding how so many things from his childhood affected his parenthood, I was able to see his humanness. As I forgave him, I didn’t want him to hurt because of his actions. I ended up wanting to make it easy for him to apologize and to move past the regret.
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
– Mark Twain
Dad couldn’t enjoy the fragrance of forgiveness. He could not let go of the regret. Dad knew he couldn’t go back and change the past, but he wished so desperately to have a different history. He couldn’t let go of his regret eventhough I had completely forgiven him. Dad did not forgive himself.
Learning how to forgive is one thing, but actually forgiving someone is a whole different story. It is hard to forgive. We don’t see the grand scheme of things like God because we are just human. Being human makes it hard to forgive other humans who have hurt us, broken our hearts, stabbed us in the back, betrayed us, abandoned us, and on and on with all the forms of pain that people inflict on each other.
“Forgiveness is the final form of love.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr
When you love someone it is easier to forgive them, right?
Actually, I think it is harder to forgive someone who betrays our love. We have an expectation with people who say they love us. For example, my father was my parent. Parents have a responsibility to be there for there children. If they pack up their belongings and move out of their child’s life for thirty years, they failed as a parent. They also betrayed our love and trust for them.
I know that an unforgiving, hate filled heart will suck all the happiness out of life. It is EASY to deny someone forgiveness when they apologize even if they are sincere with the apology. If your heart is hurting and unforgiving, you want the other person to suffer as much as they have made you suffer. Why shouldn’t they suffer?!
You’re not perfect and neither am I. At some point, we are going to hurt someone else. There will even come a point where we beg for forgiveness because our whole body is hurting with regret. Do you want that person to deny you the opportunity to apologize and receive forgiveness?
The person that is the hardest to forgive is yourself.
What? I can’t forgive myself. Forgiving myself of past actions is an exception to the forgiveness rule.
Uh, no. There are no exceptions to the forgiveness rule.
I know that regret is extremely powerful.
It is absolutely so impossible to go back and make a different choice to change the past.
We can’t unhurt other people.
We can’t unbreak their heart.
We can’t uncry their tears.
We can’t undo their pain.
When our actions can’t change the past suffering of another person, it is painful. We see our selfish behavior and the regret boldly slaps us in the face over and over again. However, in order to move forward and have happiness in your life, it is mandatory to learn to forgive yourself and others. Not of just a few things, but forgive everything.
My dad couldn’t and wouldn’t forgive himself. It deteriorated his happiness and health. Regret grew more powerful everyday until it overshadowed his whole life and every relationship. It’s sad that he died so young. Dad wanted to die. He told me that the pain he felt everyday was too much to bear and he prayed all the time that he would die. That’s exactly what happened too. Dad was diagnosed with cancer and three months later my father died.
Life is really, really short and any one of us could die today. Don’t procrastinate apologizing or forgiving.
Love yourself enough to forgive yourself.
Love others enough to forgive them.
Most of all, learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them. By living a kind and honest life, you won’t need to apologize to others or forgive yourself so much. There’s not an exception to forgiveness. Everyone deserves to feel the peace that enters your life when you are forgiven or when you let others be forgiven.
I hope we all will try to make the world a better place by having a forgiving heart and attitude.
We all deserve the opportunity to let forgiveness wash us clean and give us a new opportunity to start over.