There are many situations that test one’s ability to forgive. To me, the three elements of forgiveness involve a hurt victim, a wrongdoing, and a person who overstepped boundaries and violated someone.
So, how does one ultimately forgive? And what does it mean for someone who has been a victim?
I despise the word victim. But in reality, when someone oversteps the boundaries you have set, they violate you. By definition, you then become a victim of the transgression that occurred. For example, let’s look at a common scenario in which you may have felt violated. Your best friend hosts a party and afterward, makes a point of telling you what a fabulous time they had. You become hurt and your wheels begin to spin, wondering why your friend did not invite you and excluded you instead. Do you forgive that friend to avoid self-sabotaging your entire week or month and maintain your friendship – but possibly feel like a victim? Or do you confront your friend and ask why they left you out so you don’t fall prey to a victim mentality?
Forgiveness is hard for a lot of humans. However, it’s important to realize what we choose to create in our bodies when we refuse to forgive. Every time we are hurt, we store that negative emotion in our brains, often creating sadness and a lot of crazier thoughts in our minds. As a young girl, I was always told that I forgave easily and sometimes my mom would tell me that I should not be so forgiving. I wondered about this statement for many years and gave it much thought before deciding that my inner child was great! We should forgive. By choosing forgiveness, we set ourselves free from being a victim of the offender. We don’t allow ourselves to become entrapped by something we have no control over.
Let’s look at Frederick Buechner, a writer who stated this about forgiveness: “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways, it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
If we examine his analogy of the inability to forgive, we can see that we are holding onto a pain that may or may not have been given by someone else. On the other hand, forgiveness is a victory over an offender. You win by not storing this useless emotion inside you and allowing physical or emotional pain to consume you. I guess that as a little girl, I never wanted to take on the darkness of someone hurting me. I wanted to forgive that person and move on so I could enjoy my happy life.
As I got older, it became harder to forgive and to ultimately even forgive myself for locking away the grief caused by someone hurting me. Now, I am able to look at what has been done, confront the person, and forgive them. By doing this, I am freeing myself from the pain and the wicked wound that was created. As my daughter would say, “It’s about learning from others because everyone has a different background and they continuously form their opinions or yours.” But, I guess I want to rest easy knowing I have forgiven.
Don’t get me wrong; there are still things I have not forgiven, but I am working on that and it takes time. I have to be cautious of the gift I give to myself by forgiving someone else. One may ask why. Simply, it is because I need to process what has happened. Whether the hurt is severe or small, my complex brain seeks to lift the veil and really look at why I am hurt before I can say the words, “I forgive you!”
Now I am going to dive in deeper about forgiveness. Let’s look at Jesus, when he was crucified on the cross. This “man” on his death bed asked his father – who Christians believe is God – to relieve the two men beside him of their sins, saying, “Forgive them…” To me, that is huge! For Christians, theology begins from that forgiveness, which is seen as the heart of the gospel. Otherwise, the Christian faith is irrelevant in the face of crisis. That irrelevance would say nothing about faith itself, but it would point to a betrayal by those of us who claim to be of that faith. Imagine an authority leader who holds a position of Christians. If we do not point out the wrong doing to said authoritiarian we are not being good Christians. I would hate for someone I know, who committed a mortal sin live with that lie and not set them free. But, if I were to allow them to be truthful and forgive them, even if it was humanly wrong or scandalous. I am setting them free and I am being a good Christian.
So, was Jesus thinking that if he set these men free from their sins, they would be one with God when they died? Ralph Waldo Emerson, a writer on theological views, stated that in the bible, in Hebrew, forgiveness is characterized as having a weight lifted, yet the biblical experience of forgiveness is mostly related to strength (Emerson, 1964, p. 75). By forgiving, we release the energy of the heaviness that is lifted from our hearts. As a Christian, I believe it is good to look within and ask those hard questions in our minds. If we desire to set ourselves free and stop being enslaved by the pain that has been inflicted upon us, we really can forgive.
I am not saying all of us can or should create this space by setting free the heaviness within us, but as time goes on, I would rather to revert to my old childlike self and easily forgive so I am not stuck with the pain I am creating in my body. I guess as we get older, we become wiser about the constant ebb and flow of pain and choose to let it go or allow it to stay within us.
Here are some tools I use to evaluate what I can do to forgive myself or others who may need to offer forgiveness.
- Ask yourself, “Can I say the simple words, I forgive you?” If you can, simply do it.
- Ask your inner self, “What do you need, self?” By asking this question, you can identify what is wrong in that situation.
- Have hard conversations with the person who has hurt you and identify why you were hurt. Maybe it was a misunderstanding.
- Write in a journal all the things that have hurt you, then read them and tell the offender that they hurt you. You don’t have to reach out to them if you choose not to; simply forgive them in your head.
- Write about the feelings inside you after you’ve been hurt by someone. Ask yourself, “Hey, is this really worth the emotions I am creating?” If you can let go, forgive.
- Meditate on the pain and visualize yourself hugging and assisting in the healing that is needed.