Friday, September 14, 2007

Forgiving the Hard Offense

Forgiveness is a purposeful act. Self-help gurus will tell you that you need to forgive someone because it will help you feel better. It does help you feel better to forgive, but a good feeling may not be the best motivation for the long-term practice of forgiveness.

Because memory is hardwired to our brain and emotions, so are the negative emotions that form unforgiveness. It may seem is easier to maintain, but over time, a burden to manage. So to practice forgiveness is paramount to good emotional health.

There are practices that we can put into play to help us along the road to forgiveness. First off, we can know that when we forgive someone, we’re not agreeing that they did not hurt us or that what they did was acceptable. To absolve a person of all responsibility will be left to a higher power or a Higher Power. But you can forgive without trying to take on the burden of proclaiming their innocence. We’re not responsible for wiping a person’s slate clean of their sins—that work was taken on by Christ on the cross. So laying that burden aside, we can begin the simple process of forgiveness as nothing more than a gift that we are passing along. It may or may not cause that person to change toward us, but that is not our worry either. If they are a danger to themselves and others, we don’t even have to make contact with them and tell them they are forgiven. There are other ways to express forgiveness.

One way is to journal out a letter to that person expressing how you’ve chosen to forgive them. Write out what you know about that person’s past—was he abused as a child? Does he have a mental illness? Is she eaten up with anxiety or compulsions? Is he blind to his own ambitions? Do insecurities hamstring her choices? Write out what you know of his or her past and then attach their bad behavior to their past so that you are connecting the dots of their failure, showing how when their path collided with yours, it was doomed to fail.

Next imagine what they did in relation to mistakes that are similar to mistakes you’ve made. Have you ever gotten angry and abused a relationship? Did you need to ask forgiveness for your actions? When you compare sin to sin, it helps you realize that just as God forgave you or a friend forgave you that this person who has harmed you needs the same forgiveness.

Forgiveness is more than a good feeling. It is like removing a millstone from around your own neck.