Things I want to teach my children: Forgiveness.
Every time I talk about forgiveness I find myself surprised by how much push back I get. I shouldn’t be surprised.
Forgiveness is not a popular character trait. It is the black sheep of character traits.
Most of us hope to be perceived as good people. We hope we are seen as kind, loving, compassionate, hopeful, joyful, generous, patient, faithful, honest, fair. The list goes on.
If you told someone they were not one of those things, they might resist. Go into the banks of their good deeds to provide evidence to the contrary.
Surprisingly, then, there’s a host of people who have little to no desire to be seen as forgiving. The mere suggestion one might forgive might even be offensive.
When examining the offenses that have lead to the bitterness, it’s no wonder forgiveness has the shrill sound it has in the ears of the offended. The idea of forgiving those who have acted out of maliciousness and intent to do great harm or out of negligence wound us seems almost like an affront to justice–a means to condone a behavior that ought never to be excused.
Always be gentle to people who cannot forgive. They have suffered greatly. Be wary of them, too, as one day they may not be able to forgive you.
Make no mistake about it, forgiveness is equal parts art and skill. It is a tool and it is a fortress. It is a shield and it is a beacon. It is never a weapon, but that does not mean it is weak.
Forgiveness is not something you find one day. It doesn’t spontaneously happen. Forgiveness is something you do. Something you work toward. Something that you will fail at attempting and something you will have to try again until you get it right.
The most frustrating part is that you won’t understand the power of it until you’ve done it. You won’t see the freedom, safety and peace it affords you until it is complete. But, like all good things, it’s worth the effort.
Someday (if it hasn’t already happened), someone will hurt you.
You will feel betrayed.
You will feel angry.
You will want to hurt them back.
In the interest of defending yourself, you may need to hurt them back.
You will want justice.
You should have it. You may not get it.
You will want restitution.
You should have that. You may not get that either.
You are owed an apology that may never come.
You will need to decide if this person is worthy of being allowed to have continued access to your life.
The appropriate answer to the question may be a resounding no.
Maybe the person who has most egregiously hurt you is yourself. Maybe you have to figure out how you can live with yourself going forward.
If you can get justice, get it. If you can get an apology, accept it. If you can find a way toward restitution, seek it.
But no matter what. Forgive.
Forgiveness does not mean you are required to forget. It does not mean that you need to allow those people to stay in your life. It does not mean that you need to sacrifice your sanity, your health, or your freedom.
Never let anyone trick you into believing that because you have forgiven them you are subject to them or their abuses.
On the contrary, your forgiveness frees you from them and the weight of the bitterness that their offenses has on you and on your life.
Learn from them. Cut them from your life if you must. But forgive them.
People will try to tell you that’s not how it is or how it should be. People will tell you there are things you should never forgive. Don’t listen to them.
And for god’s sake, don’t listen to your heart. It’s wrong. Your heart will want to hang on to that anger and that bitterness. Your very soul might even cry out for it. You may even begin to fall in love with the anger and indignation you feel.
You may wrap it around you like a warm blanket and it will feel good. It will feel powerful. You may think it’s the only thing protecting you from future pain. It may even help you through the roughest of times and give you clarity and strength to do things that are necessary. Use it for that purpose. But understand that anger is also tool. It has its appropriate uses, but eventually it needs to end.
If not stopped anger turns to bitterness and the indignation begins to poison your soul. It leeches from your core and poisons your love, trust and relationships with others.
Once it is no longer necessary, it is time to look at your anger, thank it for the strength it leant you, and then let it go.
It’s time to forgive.
I will try my hardest to teach you how. I will do everything I can to model this for you. Be patient with me.
Forgive me for when I fail you.