Forgiveness can be a tricky thing. For the longest time I thought that forgiving a person and/or their actions meant that I was giving them absolution for what they did and therefore saying that what they did was acceptable.
Then over the years I kept coming across quotes like this:
“Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what someone did was okay…it means that YOU’RE okay.”
“Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Those pithy statements make it sound like letting go of resentment and anger toward a person who has hurt or harmed us is a simple thing that any of us can do as easily as flipping a switch. Like, ok, Anger: OFF, Forgiveness: ON. Well I can tell you that as much as we might like that to happen, that’s not how it works.
But I can also tell you that true forgiveness is freedom. It opens the door to happiness, and if that is what we’re choosing in our lives, then we have to make the choice to let go of resentment and bitterness toward others.
This concept struck a chord with me the other day when a friend of mine texted me to ask me if I had a minute to talk. This was unusual in our relationship so I called her immediately, fearing something was wrong. She launched into a lengthy apology, saying how sorry she was for offending me and how she didn’t mean for what she said to have come out like it did and on and on and on and she ended with “Can you ever forgive me?”
It was such a heartfelt and lovely apology, which I really appreciated (since I know how difficult it can be to apologize to someone), but part of me was laughing inside because I had no idea what she was talking about.
Seriously. Here she was saying about how she had felt guilty for weeks about something she had said in an offhand way in group of people in which I was included and it hadn’t even registered as offensive to me in any way.
She was super relieved and we moved on with our conversation, and after we hung up I spent the next few hours thinking about the whole thing. A few things came to mind.
What amused me was that there have been many other times that this friend has actually offended me and hurt me to my face, but those never seemed to bother her. I don’t understand why this off-the-cuff (and rather thoughtless, now that I think about it) statement made her feel so badly.
She was carrying these bad feelings of guilt around with her for weeks and it wasn’t even on my radar. To flip it around, how often do we ourselves carry around things that we have perceived someone did to us deliberately, when the hurt they may have caused was not intentional and they had no idea that what they said or did was harmful?
Whether or not we get offended by something is our own choice. It’s the whole “sticks and stones” thing. Just because someone says or does something mean or disrespectful, does not mean that we have to take it that way. The fact is, we can have the inner power and resilience to NOT let that person’s thoughtlessness or rudeness or utter lack of consideration ruffle our feathers in any way. It’s. A. Choice. Sometimes it might not seem like it is, but it actually is.
Another important thing to note here is that forgiveness is by no means forgetting. There are plenty of people whom I have forgiven, but I have also taken steps to make sure that there are minimal chances for them to do something to me that I would then have to forgive them for. These things that happen can be great life lessons for us in dealing with difficult people and difficult situations and the sooner we learn how to let things go that get in the way of our happiness, the better.
It takes strength to be able to forgive something or someone and move on healthily and happily. I find that it’s the weak people who hold onto hurts and replay them over and over in their minds, sometimes for years on end, hoping somehow that those practices will lead them to some kind of resolution or satisfaction. I can tell you unequivocally, they never do.
Life is so short. It really is. Why would we want to waste time holding onto feelings and emotions that do not serve us in living the happiest and most fulfilling lives possible? It’s hard sometimes, but forgiving mistakes and not holding onto grudges can often be the very things that remove obstacles from our path to true happiness.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that prisoner was you.” -Lewis B. Smedes