It’s hard to forgive.
People treat you with disrespect and step on your toes purposefully. In the extreme, some spit upon your very existence. Maybe they forgot about something very important to you. Or stood you up. Perhaps they just choose to ignore the fact that everything isn’t “okay” with your relationship.
As a friend and I were talking over a cup of coffee about the hardships of a relationship where only one person is really involved, my mind keeps going back to all of the friends I have whose lives are involved with someone who isn’t totally here. Or there. Really, they just pop in once in a while and shake things up (not usually in a good way). I’m finding – and it’s not hard to see – that everyone has an It. (If you don’t, count yourself very lucky.)
It is what started the pain. It is what is hard to forgive, or let go, or be unaffected by: Like parents and children who have been through a nasty divorce, or those whose best friend started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Being bullied. A truly degrading, offensive statement. A partner you think you know, but he or she does a sudden 180° turn in the relationship… all of these have some extent of the ‘forgiven-but-not-forgotten’ effect. Things like these are difficult to get through and even harder to leave behind. These are examples of It.
“It is what started the pain.”
For me, It has been a certain family member. For a long time, it was really hard not to be bitter and resentful about the things he has done in the past. There is still some difficulty there. Recent events have stirred up an unsettling anger that has been challenging to swallow. For my friend, It has been a partner (using the term lightly) who used and abused the relationship between them. To see him go through that was hard, but has been more troublesome for him. Although I cannot understand the depths of his It, to a degree, all of us can relate to the pain.
Now, I’m a Christian. My God has told me to forgive and not to hold a grudge multiple times throughout the Bible; but there is only one passage that suggests forgetting crimes of the past: Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am one who blots out your transgressions for my sake, and I will remember your sins no more.” Christ forgives fully, extending an all-encompassing grace to us when we ask for it. But there is difference between a wrong done by accident, versus a wrong done intentionally, especially when done repeatedly.
It can be argued that God does not directly tell us to forgive and forget. I assume that He never told us because He knows, as human beings, that we cannot. It may also be to guard us through good judgement. If we have completely “forgotten” an act that someone committed against us, we have decided to leave ourselves wide open for a new attack. Some people operate out of mere spite; so knowing that they deliberately say or do things that are hurtful, we decrease our chances of being injured. Granted, It can still hurt when said / done, but not as much as when we know to expect anything less.
In a interview on the Oprah Show, Dr. Ned Hallowell, a psychiatrist and author, gave his bit of advice on how it is best to forgive: “In order to forgive we must renounce resentment or anger… We do not have to forget, ignore or condone anyone or anything. We just have to renounce our anger and resentment.” Dr. Hallowell goes through four steps to forgiving. Upon reading, I found step #2 to be most convincing. “Ask yourself: What do you want this pain to turn into?” He writes. “Look for the hook. The hook is what is holding you back—it’s the portion of the misdeed that is causing you to hold on to your anger and resentment.”
“Forgiveness is a decision of the will. Since God commands us to forgive, we must make a conscious choice to forgive. This frees the forgiving one from the past.”
It’s easy for us to wish that it would turn into a tool for revenge, even an apology. Unfortunately, these are not directly feasible, nor are they conducive. All it means is that you are darkening your own future by dragging It with you wherever you go. From my own experience, there are three types of people:
(1) Those who talk excessively about It with anyone who will listen,
(2) Those who bottle up and don’t talk at all, and
(3) On the rare occasion, those who will be modest about It. These people are often the ones who try to find ways to move on and find forgiveness soonest, instead of schlepping the problem behind them for long periods of time. They complain very little.
“Ask yourself: What do you want this pain to turn into?”
Turn It into a new life. Change It into love. Perhaps try to see It as a learning experience, or as something you have survived. Now you can help people who have been through the same situation.
Transform the memory of pain into an act of benevolence or generosity. Do this whenever you find yourself thinking about it. What that person did or said, do the opposite to others. For example: Did the person at fault criticize you harshly? Give your someone around to you a compliment. Did he/she withhold love or affection that made you feel lonely? Spend time with someone – a neighbor, your kids, or a friend – and give them a hug. Make them feel noticed and loved. Was that person miserly? (Just another word for uncharitable: in this case, someone who never gave to others out of bitterness or monetary stinginess.) Volunteer time or donate goods to a serviceable cause. You might be amazed at how this changes your thoughts. When caught up in the actions of others, we may start to pick up the same tendencies, which prevents us from moving forward.
“What that person did or said, do the opposite to others around you.”
This is also a good opportunity to learn how to be present. As cliche as it might sound, what has happened in the past needs to stay in the past, in order for you to focus on the present. Try thinking “That was then; this is now.” Is there a memory of that person that you can honor? What was one sincere or respectable action that, looking back, you are surprised they committed? I recently did this, and it has really helped me get past the resentment factor (see The Day My Dad Was My Hero for an example). Finding an honorable mention about the person who has caused you harm can help to focus on integrity rather than affliction.
But Use Caution! Be aware that if someone who doesn’t know you seems catty, it could be unintentional. They could be dealing with problems at home, untold health issues, or perhaps life is wearing them down. It happens to all of us, and we can be unthinkingly harsh on one another. In other words, be careful who you judge.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32, ESV
How do you find forgiveness? Leave your tip or tale in the comments. Follow the links below to see more information, as well as the resources I used for this essay here: