The power of forgiveness

It’s never easy to forgive. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. And yet, all spiritual traditions call us to do exactly that. Maya Angelou said: “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” Here are a few thoughts and a story about forgiveness.

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Perhaps one of the most difficult and profound lessons we learn as humans is forgiveness. When we forgive, we indeed become like God. We free ourselves and the other person. Why then, with so many beautiful benefits from this act, do we find it so difficult?

Many reasons. Forgiving another means letting go, falling into the unknown and how many of us like to do that? With our resentments clutched tightly to us, we feel safe. Our bitterness gives us a false sense of control and power and also of self-righteousness. After all, we have been wronged and we feel we deserve to be vengeful.

It boils down to us feeling very right about being very wronged. So we hold onto our “rightness” even though it is like barbed wire cutting our soul and holding us prisoner.

barbed wireHere is a brief story I have shared before, but it applies here, too. Many years ago, when I was a therapist at an outpatient counseling center for my graduate internship, I remember a woman who could not forgive her daughter. Even more sad, she could not forgive herself. Her daughter had had a son out-of-wedlock and had been into heavy drug use and mixing with a bad crowd.

The woman’s daughter was raising her child in an unhealthy environment so this woman and her husband, both in their 60s, took their grandson when he was about 8 years old so they might raise him. But one day, with the child under their care, he rode his bike out into the street, was struck by a van and killed.

To be present to this woman’s grief — and hatred — was palpable. She told me she could never forgive her daughter for how she had raised the boy. Worse yet, she could never forgive herself for her grandson’s death. She replayed the scene over and over again in therapy — how she should have been more vigilant, how she should never have let her grandson out into the street by himself.

Her resentment and unforgiveness then extended beyond herself to God. How could he allow such a thing to happen, especially to a small boy?

I had no answers. I could only be with this woman in her grief and hatred, journey with her through the pain and muck of sorrow, and hope she could come to some peace for herself, her life and her family. But ultimately, the choice to forgive was hers alone.

After feeling what she needed to feel — crucial to the healing process — only she could come to see how her unforgiveness was not only binding her, but her daughter as well. It was blocking vital energy she needed for her own life and her own well-being.

Does an act of forgiveness mean condoning evil acts? Hardly. There will always be evil in the world. There will always be injustices and wrongs committed. We can never justify any thought, word or deed that harms another. But forgiving the perpetrator is an entirely different matter than sanctioning the act.

It is the classic story in the New Testament of the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus. The crowd wants to stone her as per the Jewish law. The condemners expect Jesus to enact vengeance on this woman. Instead, Jesus quietly begins to write in the dirt. We aren’t told what he writes, but eventually he stands and utters his famous words, “Let those among you without sin cast the first stone.”

forgiveWe, too, need to put down the stones in our hearts and hands. When we heal through forgiveness, others are also healed. We can remember that we are all on this journey on the earth together and at some point, each of us has missed the mark in some way.

One of my favorite authors, Sue Monk Kidd, who I quote often, has this to say about forgiveness:

“I learned a long time ago that some people would rather die than forgive. It’s a strange truth, but forgiveness is a painful and difficult process. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s an evolution of the heart.”

May we be open to allow our hearts to evolve — toward love and forgiveness. Yes, they are the harder curriculum of life. But the gifts are boundless. To others. To ourselves. Let’s begin now.

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2 thoughts on “The power of forgiveness

  1. “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.” ~ Buddha

    I’ve always felt the feeling of not being able to forgive is similar…it is we ourselves who are getting burned, and the relief of letting go of the burning unforgiving feeling, is relief indeed, opening our hearts to see and become aware of the much clearer picture. For starters! 🙂

    I think it is sometimes felt that to forgive, or to forgive too quickly is not only to relinquish the satisfying feeling of righteous ‘woundedness’, and control, but might even be giving that control to the other party! When we know that we are responsible for ourselves, and what the other party does is their business and responsibility, the way opens up for us. A while back I had reason where I believed I was justified in not forgiving someone as I struggled tearfully through my days and life. One day I was blessed in suddenly realising “yes, I had been badly treated and wronged, but I was punishing myself by these feelings which were ripping me apart. The first step for me was to let go of that woundedness (which I saw I was clasping tightly to by breast!), enabling very shortly after that to forgive. She acted on the spur of the moment and had then found herself in trouble, and hd so started to lie. This was her stuff, not mine. I had been reacting (and attaching) to it instead of letting go, pausing and then responding…..and my response was forgiveness. Silent forgiveness because this subject would not be discussed….but forgiveness all the same.

    Not forgiving ourselves? I think there can be many things which make us feel this. The need to punish ourselves, the need for others to openly know of and see our remorse, and sometimes (not at all to do with your sad story of Grandmother and 8 year old child), we find falling into the feeling of being the victim a sadly better place for us to be at that moment. Sadly, because victimhood is to really stall us right where we are and altogether stopping the chance of healing.

    What a very sad story Marielena, and as always a beautiful blog for which I thank you, dear sweet friend that you are.
    ​♡​​

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    • Thank you, dear Karen, for your insightful and moving comments on my blog post. I love your wisdom in these words and I have much gratitude and bow to you for sharing your own personal story of forgiveness. I hope others take time to read your comments here as they speak a great truth. With deepest gratitude for you and to you, my friend!

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