One of life’s hardest lessons is to learn how to forgive. Forgiveness is difficult — and very misunderstood. Many people confuse it with other things. Forgiveness is not approving, condoning, ignoring, excusing, or seeking compensation for hurtful acts. Forgiving is not forgetting or overlooking wrongful acts. Nor does forgiveness concern your being morally superior and granting others absolution “from above”. Forgiveness is a much bigger idea.
Forgiveness is needed when people hurt us, when we experience losses, or when we lose a sense of ourselves. Sometimes people try to take something from us — our possessions, or self-respect, or our well-being. All of them great losses. When we lose things and suffer, we want to put things back in order – we want a sense of wholeness again in our relationships with other people and ourselves.
At other times, people disappoint us and we can frustrate ourselves with our own behavior. Basically, that’s being human. Life is not a Hollywood movie – there is no script. Life has ups and downs, with dilemmas and few easy answers. That’s why forgiveness is so important to our well-being.
When we suffer losses – friends, success, jobs, life – we experience a range of emotional feelings. At first we may deny that anything is different or that we have any responsibility for or connection to events. In these circumstances we can get angry, confused, sad and fearful.
We want to punish those who hurt us. We all have heard the phrase: “I don’t get mad, I get even”. People who get hurt sometimes seek retribution, which usually ends up creating a cycle of revenge. Anger is a natural emotion but it can fog our vision and minds and affect our rational and moral judgment.
All of this can be depressing. Things seem fractured and aflutter . . . distance develops between people… cynicism, anger, and exasperation surface. When things go wrong, we have to accept and deal with them. That’s where forgiveness comes into the picture.
Forgiveness can make things ‘whole’ again; maybe not exactly as they were, but clear and open, without the negative residue of anger and hate. Through forgiveness, we can find inner and external peace, which allows the fabric of our soul and spirit to become whole again, allowing us to forge new relationships with others and ourselves. In situations of conflict, it is ideal if both parties practice forgiveness.
Remember – forgiveness does not mean approving of bad behavior or hateful, despicable acts. Rather, it means looking ahead and not living in the past and having those acts haunt us.