Last month, I talked about the value of recognizing when you’ve hurt others, admitting your fault, and asking for a second chance. This is an important part of spiritual growth.
Having said all that, I now want to explore this topic from the other side: whether to forgive those who have hurt you, what it means to forgive, and how forgiveness looks and feels.
Forgiveness is a great value because it acknowledges and honors the fact that we are all works in progress. Consequently, forgiveness provides opportunities for growth and development.
It also liberates us from the ugly strain of carrying around resentment. There are people who actually enjoy fostering and nurturing grudges; they constantly reinforce their anger about how unpredictable and unfair the world is. They call this “being realistic.”
But seeing the world through pessimistic eyes will cause you to miss out on the finest and most beautiful features of God’s creation. A hardened heart can do you no good.
That being said, the art of forgiving is one that must be developed. If, for example, you forgive someone just because you don’t want them to be mad at you (for being mad at them), your forgiveness is not necessarily coming from a healthy place. Another example: You forgive a person who is likely to continue taking advantage of you.
You don’t want to find yourself doing offering blanket forgiveness without truly examining if it’s honest. One must definitely study one’s own personal truth before freely dispensing forgiveness.
Though it isn’t simple, it is imperative that you create a mechanism for forgiveness that promotes your well-being.
A better world
When someone has hurt you, you may attempt to close the door emotionally on them and give them no more opportunity to invade your vulnerability. You build a wall of defenses – self- righteousness, a sense of injustice, and anger – to keep this person at bay.
Once you have invigorated your armor, however, you might come to notice that it is too heavy to bear for very long. You’re well-defended, but it takes a toll on you.
At the same time, you may find it difficult to let go of how angry and sad you are. After all, you were severely wronged. Letting go of your anger may feel like trivializing the blow.
If that’s what you think, let me tell you the truth: Obsessing about the past is never going to do you any good. There has to be a point in time where you move forward and let go.
I’m not suggesting amnesia, and it’s not about being naïve. You know when you are stuck; you are aware of whether or not you delve, too often and too severely, into subjects that have no other purpose than to upset you.
If this is something you struggle with, I suggest that you meditate on the following sentence: Wouldn’t it be lovely if every living creature was freed from its suffering?
After all, two parties suffer with every wrongdoing – the perpetrator as well as the victim. Every twisted, mean, horrid act comes from a place of suffering. If every living creature was freed from suffering, we would treat each other with love and kindness.
This is a hard notion to accept. I personally had to do a lot of self-work to come to this conclusion. But if you’re able to embrace this idea, you’ll be able to release the resentment you harbor.
When you shake off the ultimate importance of your own personal injustice – when you realize that everyone, to some degree, is suffering – you will have a broader spiritual view of life itself. You will be ready to strive for a world of people in their right minds, all looking for kindness, not cruelty.
What about accepting apologies?
When someone comes to you expressing regret, the first question is whether you’re capable of what we just discussed – letting go of your anger towards them.
But there is also another question. Are you, after their apology, willing to return to the status quo? Or will you be on guard and suspicious, waiting for the next betrayal? Can you ever trust this person again? This is definitely a matter to be considered.
I want to emphasize that this is a separate question from forgiveness itself. Forgiveness is about approaching others with a strong belief that we are all flawed human beings, capable of wrongdoing. This helps you understand where other people are coming from and accept them -with compassion, even those who have wronged you.
But trust is another subject altogether.
Here is my advice. If you believe that another person genuinely regrets what they did, and if you believe you can trust them to really make an effort in the future, accept their apology and wipe the slate clean. Don’t spend the rest of the relationship suspicious or waiting for the next violation. Straighten things out, open your heart, and love them again. This is the default; most conflicts are not so serious that this cannot be achieved.
On the other hand, you may be asked for forgiveness by a person who sincerely understands they are in the wrong and wants to correct things, but has demonstrated in the past that they can’t control their own behavior. They fall prey to faulty thinking and repeat their mistakes.
There can come a time in a relationship when you will decide that for your own wellbeing, you must set a boundary. Forgiving them, and caring for them, doesn’t mean that you must give them carte blanche to cause you damage. In this case, you will tell them: “I forgive you, but I cannot trust you.” Or, “I love you, and I wish you well, but I hope you understand that I also need to protect myself.”
If someone has a tendency to treat you unfairly or hurt your feelings, forgiveness can mean finding empathy for them – while also steering clear.
With that warning handed over, let me remind you again that we are all constellations of mind and body. We don’t want to find ourselves physically as well as emotionally ill because of anger and resentment. Yes, there may be some exceptions; but when you can , where you can, with whom you can – celebrate humanity.