Learning to forgive others is not easy, but it is necessary if you want to live a life free of the power and influence of others bad choices and behaviors. I recently received a request to speak to the issue of forgiveness. Specifically, the reader asked, “What is your view on forgiveness? Who do you think should forgive and why should they.“ My viewpoint has always been what I was taught through my Christian faith, that you forgive others because God first forgave you! But more than that, my experience has been that forgiving others releases you from the power and control of holding onto unforgivenesss gives the other person (whom we need to forgive). I recently read a story on forgiveness from the Family Life website and they defined forgiveness as follows: Forgiveness means letting go of your right to punish another and choosing through the power of God’s love to hold onto the other person rather than his or her offense. In other words, it is learning to accept and love the person who offended or hurt us despite their flaws, offenses, and faults.
Forgiveness does not require you to forget. As humans our brains are powerful computers that record and hold memories, both positive and negative. Be mindful that by not letting of the hurt and offenses means you will continue to think about it and thinking about those offenses will bring those old negative thoughts and feelings back to the surface of your mind, which means you never really forgave or let it go.
The article continued to share that in the process of forgiving, the first barrier you have to remove is within yourself. You have to decide to let go of the offense along with your desire to punish the offender. You have to decide to see your spouse (or mother, father, sibling, etc.) instead of the offense. Often the decision to let go has to be renewed daily, hourly, or even more often. The bigger the offense, the more challenging it can be to let go; but the less you ruminate (dwell) on the offense and feed your anger, the easier it becomes [ Marriage Matters ©2010 Winston T. Smith.] It is neither helpful nor healthy to continuously beat up on yourself when it seems you relapse into moments of unforgiveness. Check your thoughts and feelings, put them “in a box” ( a mental exercise), seal it and let it go!
The author, Winston T. Smith, noted that understanding forgiveness as a decision to let go is important because we often confuse forgiveness with our emotions. When this happens forgiveness ebbs and flows as our emotions ebb and flow. When we don’t feel angry, we think we’ve forgiven, but when anger resurfaces it seems we’re back to square one. Just when we think an issue has been laid to rest for good, it pops up again. While forgiveness affects and can bring relief to our emotions, it’s much more than an emotion. It’s a decision we make based on our worship of God to forgive as he forgives. [Family Life, Adapted from Marriage Matters ©2010 Winston T. Smith.]
But what if you can’t stop thinking about it? When you dwell on an incident, it may mean there are lingering questions or anxiety about what’s happened. Look for unresolved issues or unanswered questions. Are there hurts that you never revealed? Is there something missing or wrong in the way your spouse (or offender) is dealing with his or her sin? [Family Life, Adapted from Marriage Matters ©2010 Winston T. Smith. ] Should this be the case, now is the time to consider talking with wise counsel or a professional with whom you can trust to sort out those feelings. It might be your religious leader or a therapist. This person will help you to process where the feelings originate from, what have you not worked on within,, and what is the need or motivation you might have to control or punish the offender.
Every human being struggles with unforgiveness. It is the “not letting go” part that is unhealthy and destroys relationships. Everyone deserves forgiveness and a second chance. Forgiving someone of past offenses and hurts does not mean you have accept nor tolerate unhealthy behaviors and attitudes. Is doesn’t even mean you have to invite them back into your life. As mentioned previously, processing these powerful feelings will help you to move on and make decisions for yourself that will result in greater happiness.