We might as well talk about forgiveness today. Why? Glad you asked! If there is one thing I have learned in 41 years, it is that we all have a duffel bag of life issues that we like to drag around. We’re born, and from that point forward we just start adding stuff to it. Pain, bitterness, distrust, jealousy, anxiety and fear all fester and bloat in that bag until it is so heavy that it is all that defines our struggle as we try to move through life.
Yes, people hurt us. This is because they are people and, for some reason, we are all prone to do that and have that done to us. Humanity does not come with an organic ability to not do that, unfortunately. We are not necessarily born with righteousness, compassion, empathy, sympathy, and altruism preprogrammed into our hearts and minds. These are learned characteristics and developing and using them are a choice we all have to make.
For many of us, pain and bitterness are well-earned. Being hurt, in many cases, is not a choice—it is just something that is done to us and we are left to figure out how to process it and what to do about it. What if I told you, though, that there is a way to overcome what the world does to us…what people do to us, and still be an inspiration to others?
It starts with a shift in worldview. I know firsthand how easy it is to become completely wrapped up in my pain, and when I do my worldview gets so narrow that essentially all I can see is myself. I don’t see that others are hurting worse. I don’t see the need in others around me. I tend to lose focus of the things I am responsible for and I start dropping balls that people depend on me to carry. As a father, husband, and professional, I cannot afford to do that. Oh, sure. I can feel sorry for myself for a little while, but what I cannot afford to do is marinate in that pain to the point that the only scent coming off of me is what has happened to me. I have found that I heal faster when I focus more on the needs of others. That doesn’t mean that I ignore my problems. It simply means that I refuse to be defined by them.
It is also important to have perspective on the person or people that have caused me pain. Did they do so intentionally? If so, is it because of some issue in their life that I can help them with? Or maybe they are just hurtful people and will never realize—or care—what they have done. Does harboring bitterness and resentment toward them make me feel better, or does it simply prolong the agony of what I am feeling? The reality is that even if you are angry or bitter toward someone who has legitimately hurt you, chances are they will never realize it, or if they do, they won’t care. I once heard a wise quote about this: “Clinging to bitterness toward someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Think about that.
It does take time to process pain that is caused by other people. I have found that confiding in a trustworthy friend is helpful. I have even sought counseling from people who are trained at that sort of thing in cases where I knew that simply chatting about my issues was not going to help in the long term. Healing does not come overnight, but it does come if one can commit to the process. Nothing helps healing, though, like good old fashioned forgiveness.
I looked up “forgiveness” in my favorite dictionary (the Internet) and this is the definition I found: “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense and lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”
Intentional and voluntary. How do you forgive someone? According to that definition, you have to actually decide to. It doesn’t say that the offender asks for it; it says you have to be intentional about giving it. However, that comes after the hard part, which is the next thing in that definition: changing feelings and attitude regarding the offense. Once that is accomplished and the decision is made, you haven’t just set the offender free; you have set yourself free from the burden of what was done and you have released yourself from a lifetime of dragging that thing around in your duffel bag.
Truly forgiving someone is quite possibly the hardest thing we will ever do—especially if the offense was life-changing and destructive. I have had to do my fair share of pain processing over the course of my life, but until now I have not ever truly forgiven anyone. I am ready to do that now, because I realize this: I have hurt people too and if I ever hope to be forgiven, I must be willing to do the same.