Forgive and forget. That is the mantra we are taught from a young age. Forgiveness is pounded into our brains and yet many of us are never properly taught how to forgive. We recite the words and yet the ugly beasts of revenge and hatred still bubble inside us. As humans, are we even capable of full forgiveness? Without a traumatic brain injury we surely are not fully capable of forgetting evil deeds committed against us. Ask me what I wore last week and I won’t be able to answer you. Ask me about a time when someone in my life has hurt me and I can recite every single detail. I have even caught myself saving nasty emails and text messages from people. Why do I do that? Does it give me some sort of twisted pleasure to remember the ugly words people have said to me? On some level do I want to stay mad?
I have had several events in my life that have tested my personal ability to forgive. I won’t go into specific detail about each event but I will say a large majority of them involve family members. I think when things happen with family it is definitely more challenging to forgive. As they say, in order to hate you must have first loved. It is no secret that I can have quite the temper. In the risk of defending my faults, I will say that I am an extremely passionate person. The forgiveness journey has been one of the biggest tests of my character. I think God knows exactly what parts of our character need work and He is not afraid to send challenges our way!
I have seen the results of people who carry vengeance in their hearts. They may recite the words “I have forgiven” but it is blatantly obvious that they haven’t. You can tell by the look in their eyes when that person’s name is mentioned. You can tell by their every day actions. One of my biggest motivations for being a forgiving person is my son. I want him to grow up seeing what forgiveness looks like. I want to model for him how to forgive. How can I instruct him to forgive people if I am not willing to practice what I preach? I am by no means an expert on forgiveness. There are still several people in my life that I have not fully forgiven. However, I can definitely say that I have found several things that have helped me move toward forgiveness.
Be self-aware. Have enough courage to acknowledge when you haven’t fully forgiven someone. You can talk the talk all you want but until you truly forgive your actions will tell otherwise. Other people (especially children) are more perceptive than you may think.
Realize that holding a grudge hurts you – not the other person. The philosopher Epictetus said, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” This is one of my favorite quotes. I think the key to successful forgiveness is realizing that the act of forgiving is for the health of our own heart – it is not to make the other person feel better.
And then there is the “forget” part. My personal belief is that “forget” does not mean to wipe the event from our memory. Instead, I think forgetting means letting go of the hate-filled vengeful feelings you harbor. Wouldn’t you rather have a heart full of peace and love instead of a heart full of hate?
But wait! We shouldn’t let people back into our lives who have hurt us! I agree to some extent. Obviously there are some events that happen where you should under no circumstances allow those people to be in your life. Then there are other circumstances where I say: If we were all kicked out of people’s lives for our sins and transgressions, would we have anyone left around us?
Do you struggle with forgiveness?
What are some strategies you use to try and fully forgive others?