The Power of Forgiveness

forgivenessToday is Tuesday, May 14, 2013.

Some people have posted Facebook status messages today about a film called “The Power of Forgiveness.”  It is being shown on certain TV stations in selected cities, but I wasn’t surprised to find that it won’t be shown here in South Dakota.  We rarely get anything good.

For information about the film project, go here.  On the site, you can take a “forgiveness quiz” to see how forgiving you are.  There are 33 statements for you to evaluate, then click on a button to strongly agree, agree somewhat, be undecided, disagree somewhat, and strongly disagree.  Some of the statements are fairly challenging to evaluate, because we are rarely all one thing or all another.  However, holistic types of assessments like these take that sort of thing into account.

There is also a tab on the site where you can check to see when the film will be aired in your location, and what station to tune in to.  The film consists of interviews with leading religious leaders in the major world faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam.   The main message is that forgiveness does not really mean totally forgetting the wrong done to us.  Instead, it means letting go of the hurt feelings and the need for revenge against the wrongdoer.  It means letting go of our need to be proven right or our need to have others feel sorry for us.   Letting go means choosing not to make ourselves miserable by reliving the event over and over.  It means refusing to allow our hurt feelings to dictate our words and actions.  It means understanding that the wrongdoer may not have actually meant to hurt us.  It means realizing that the wrongdoer may have done what he did out of fear or anger toward someone else.  It means recognizing that the wrongdoer is a child of God.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the relationship with you and the wrongdoer will work out all right.  The relationship may end, and you may find that you are much better off without that person in your life.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you condone what happened, that it is OK somehow.  It’s not OK, but you no longer feel the need to punish the wrongdoer by hurting them back.  Some people are just not capable of giving and receiving love or of asking for forgiveness.  Wish them well and let them go.  God will give the person experiences that will teach them better.  Meanwhile, it is not our place to judge.

ForgivenessScale

It’s well-known that forgiveness is a way to heal your body as well as your heart.  In the diagram at right, the thing you forget, recall, nurse or remember is your anger, hurt, embarrassment, and fear. When we can recall an incident without our blood pressure rising, without crying, without seething, without our heart beating fast, we can assume that we are in the process of forgiveness.

Here’s a personal example.  It took me at least 7 to 10 years to be able to recall various events from my marriage and divorce without crying or wanting to scream.  One day about 20 years after the date of the divorce, I realized that I could summarize events from that time period, but I no longer cried as I recalled what happened.  Now that it has been over 30 years since my divorce, I no longer recall the most hurtful details, and when I do, I realize that I will never again allow that sort of thing to be done to me.  I was lucky that there were no children in the marriage, so I didn’t have to stay in contact with my ex.  I was able to make a clean break, and that helped immensely.

A lot of people find it much easier to forgive others than to forgive themselves.  It’s important to realize that – just as when we forgive others – forgiving ourselves does not mean that what we did was OK.   We can admit our mistakes and then move on.  We can ask for forgiveness from the person that we wronged.  If the person refuses to forgive us, even when we ask repeatedly, that is their problem, not ours.  We can also ask for forgiveness from someone who has already passed on.  It doesn’t really matter if you don’t believe they hear you, because the important thing is to admit to yourself what you did and express remorse, then resolve to do better in the future.  We can also ask God to forgive us.  It’s not really the case that God doesn’t forgive us if we don’t ask.  The reality is that when we ask for forgiveness from God, we are indicating that we are now ready to accept God’s forgiveness, which is already given, unconditionally.  The point, once again, is admitting to yourself what you did, expressing remorse, then accepting that we are forgiven and resolving to do better in the future.

set prisoner freeIt’s been said that forgiveness is one major key to spiritual freedom.  When we are angry with a person or a situation, we are allowing our feelings to dictate how we behave and what we say.  Our feelings are actually controlling us the way a puppeteer controls the strings of a puppet.   This is true whether we are conscious of our anger or not.  Forgiveness has the effect of letting us out of a prison of our own making.

Here’s an exercise:  get a small notebook and write the names of people whom you feel have wronged you, along with what they did to hurt you embarrass you,  or make you angry.  then go back over that list and decide to forgive the people.  It may take you several days or weeks to forgive each person on your list, but keep working on it.  When you feel that you have truly forgiven the first person on the list, then cross his name off you list and move to the next name.  Keep adding names if you have to.   Write down the date you feel you forgave each person on the list. When you have gone five years without putting any more names on the list, get rid of the notebook.

Another list you can start is a list of people whom you have wronged, and whose forgiveness you would like to request.  As each person forgives you, cross his or her name off the list.  If the person has gone out of your life or died, you will have to ask them for forgiveness in your mind.   Don’t forget to ask God for forgiveness, too.  When you feel you’ve been forgiven, cross the name off your list.  When you have not had any new names for five years, throw away the list.  🙂

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