Can you forgive? It is not easy.
Anyway, you may not want to. It's simpler to hate.
Human beings often resist forgiving. Maybe it’s an evolutionary function, like protecting yourself against your enemies. After all, in ancient times, you rarely got a second chance. It’s not really hard to understand; in some situations it may be better to stay unforgiving, angry and wary. It’s safer that way.
Many of us just can’t help it; we harbor anger, hate, jealousy, and negativity—a plethora of poisonous feelings—like some nasty but prized possession. Look what he did to me! or I can’t believe that she left me for that stupid idiot! Divorce, along with many other hurts of this world, makes you acutely familiar with feeling like a victim. And, who wants to forgive when you know you’ve been wronged?
But, is toxic hate really a good thing?
There is power in not forgiving; you feel certain of your moral position and understand your place in the world. Many times we feel strength in hate. Yet, there may be more power in the project of forgiveness. It frees you by putting the lack of fairness of things into perspective and allows you to escape the past, while learning important lessons from it.
To forgive demands much inner strength; it’s not a simple act of faith. It’s a complex and beautiful form of psychological mending. (Faith may have a role but it is not required.)
The power and beauty of forgiveness is often overlooked. When you forgive another, you actually liberate yourself. To forgive is to allow peace between you and the other, and perhaps even more importantly, it can allow peace to reside within.
Our wonderful readers often give insightful and inspiring responses; in one such response a reader tells us of her personal journey towards forgiving.
"I have been hurt and many who know me have said they can't understand why I have suffered so much loss in my life. From my baby daughter dying at 23 days old to losing my lifestyle ease when I was diagnosed with diabetes 26 years ago, I have had to face grief, loss, and sorrow on many fronts. And some of those fronts involve others who have hurt me terribly."
"I came to realize that forgiveness is a gift to my self. Forgiveness does not absolve the perpetrator from the wrongs he has committed. Forgiveness does not make his life any easier or happier. It is a balm for my own heart and soul... not for the ones who have hurt me."
To borrow the words of Seneca, “Anger: an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
By holding onto the anger, the resentment, and the bitterness caused us by others we do not harm them, rather we harm ourselves. Forgiveness is the key to letting go of that “acid."
The comment continues:
"Life is hard and messy. None of us is exempt from sorrow and hardships...But life is so much fuller; it is so rich in love and forgiveness and that is a gift I give myself. I hope you would consider the idea that forgiveness can give you a renewed outlook on your own life."
"I genuinely desire to place my heart and mind in a place where I can hope and pray for the happiness of those who have hurt me. They do not apologize; they do not even know they've hurt me often. That is not the point."
Perhaps, as our reader writes, it would do well for us to change our perspective. Maybe, instead of seeing others as having a sinister agenda, we should realize that there’s sometimes more than meets the eye. Each individual has his own story, his own challenges, and his own journey. There are often two sides to every story.
Our reader wishes those who harmed her well. It's a noble thought; but it may be beyond me. I, for one, can't pray for a bully's well beling, but I can accept that bullies are part of this world. I accept, forgive—and I protect. Ultimately, forgiveness is about accepting—about letting go. You let go of your anger and victimhood, while learning lessons about the world or an adversary and take appropriate actions to protect yourself.
Forgiveness is an antidote to hate; it’s about moving on with wisdom.
Religion life is replete with help in forgiving. In Jewish ritual prayer, for instance, here is a wish to forgive that's said every night before going to sleep:
“Master of the Universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me or who sinned against me - whether against my body, my property, my honor or against anything of mine; whether he did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly or purposefully; whether through speech, deed, thought, or notion…I forgive. Let no man be punished because of me.”
The lesson? It’s good to forgive - everyday. This prayer could be an excercise in cognitive psychology; let go of the negativity of the day, and allow yourself a new start.
At the same time, it’s important to realize that forgiveness is not just, or not necessarily, about the other. Whether it’s a divorce, the tragedy
of Superstorm Sandy or simply someone hurting your feelings, forgiveness is an empowering and liberating tool that we all possess
The words of Seneca ring true; and you don’t want to be consumed by poison.
You have a life to live. When possible, live it free of toxic hate.
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