Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.
Forgiveness is a cornerstone of any relationship. Forgive! It is a simple, one word commandment, and yet it is probably the most overlooked and diminished healing force in any relationship. People say, “I’m sorry” all the time, but the true meaning and implication of forgiveness is often not fully understood.
In many relationships people forgive just enough to get past the immediate conflict so they can go about their daily lives. The superficial lip service of words or the giving of flowers is a quick cure-all to ease the tension. But when the deeper meaning of forgiveness is not part of the relationship, and then that relationship faces some kind of major indiscretion, forgiveness too often difficult to embrace. Instead of embracing forgiveness as a path to healing, the act of forgiving a another person is mistaken as a sign of weakness, submission, and defeat. On some level, we know in our hearts what forgiveness is and how important it is, but even with the closest of relationships forgiveness doesn’t come easily.
When it comes to those in love have we somewhere along the way bought into Jennifer’s pronouncement in the movie Love Story that, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry?” Is it really that simple? Was she trying to say that being in love implies that forgiveness is just assumed and that there is no need to acknowledge responsibility or remorse if you cause your partner pain? Is it fair to expect other people to adjust their interpretations of an incident as if they had a spell check program automatically cleaning up your mistakes?
Sometimes the mistakes we make are small. They create little twinges of pain, short lived misunderstandings, and irritation. Most of us are able to forgive others for such interpersonal clumsiness. But sometimes a loved one does or says something that causes much more than a twinge of pain. When the mistakes are not so little it is not easy for many to extend forgiveness.
If the communication in many marriages or other close relationships could be likened to the workings of a computer program, many relationships nowadays would need to have entire files reformatted or deleted and sent to the trash. They would need to be re-booted and have anti-virus programs installed to prevent the whole system from crashing.
Do you know people who seem to have an anti-virus approach to their forgiveness? They notice every mistake you make and yet are oblivious to their own. Perhaps you know people who freeze up and never let you know that you have hurt them. They intended to let bygones be bygones. They thought they sent the yucky feeling to the “trash.” But the energy of the memory was still there, running in the background. It “popped up” and caused issues down the road when they least expected.
On the other hand, talking about every little hurt can be tedious. Feeling like you have to double think everything you say, like you’re maneuvering in an emotional mine field does not make for a healthy relationship. But when the mistakes mount, or the misunderstandings are too great, you need to rise above your pain. Close friends and familial relationships are too special to discard them so easily. To get past these heartfelt transgressions, it is imperative that you forgive one another.
Any two people in a relationship, and especially in a marriage, are going to say and do things that rub each other the wrong way. Conflict is inherent in all relationships. We seem to make the biggest mistakes in our intimate relationships and it is in our intimate relationships that the errors cut the deepest. They have the most profound effect and take the longest time to understand and to transcend.
To get past these moments of conflict, especially when it involves people you really care about, relationships need to operate within a context of forgiveness. This means that you are willing to incorporate the “allness” of the relationship. There are things you each did right, and conversely, there are things you each did wrong.
You cannot get past what went wrong between you and another person until you are willing to forgive. The act of forgiving can take place in a single moment, but its benefits may extend over a lifetime because that simple act of forgiveness forever becomes a living part of the relationship. Forgiveness is what gets us in touch with the power of love we all have inside.
When a marital couple has too many indiscretions, conflicts and incidents of hurt they might decide that divorce is their best option. When a couple gets to this point usually it is because they didn’t have forgiveness as a cornerstone in their marriage. That’s not to say you can’t get divorce and forgive your spouse it’s just that this is far too rare. Divorce causes the ego to come out front and center and the ego’s job is to be right and survive. It is too easy for divorcing couples to get caught up in the specifics of what was done or said, and they are not encouraged to look beyond the surface of the situation to heal what is the real culprit for the conflict and the emotional pain. It’s never really about the cap off the toothpaste.
No physical wound every healed without the good cells overtaking the bad cells. No emotional wound ever healed without forgiveness overtaking the pain.
For some, when a close relationship goes south it causes so much anger, hurt, and bitterness that it’s difficult for the person to look at the situation rationally. Again, that is the ego at work. They are so full of contempt and resentment that the thought of forgiving feels like the excruciating sting of alcohol being poured on an open wound. They might say, “I’m hurting too much. THEY were the one who caused me pain. I can’t even think of forgiving them now.”
In times like this maybe they need to think of forgiveness as Spiritual Neosporin.
Forgiveness is very soothing. It doesn’t make your would sting more. It actually lessens the pain, promotes faster healing, and even helps prevent scarring. It is the perfect medicine for emotional wounds.
If we look a little deeper, it may be that we’re not resisting that actual act of forgiveness. Saying “I’m sorry” is simple. It’s our own perceptions of forgiveness and what it means to us deep down that stops us. So what is forgiveness? Let’s look first at what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness does not mean:
1) that you stop hurting;
2) that you are giving the other person permission to
do whatever you are forgiving them for again;
3) that you accept or tolerate the behavior and what they did was Okay;
4) that there will not be consequences;
5) that you will forget the incident ever happened, or;
6) that someone has to say they are sorry first.
Forgiveness does not mean that the pain you feel is unjustified or that the pain has gone away. You are entitled to your feelings. Denying or avoiding your emotional pain only buries it or channels it elsewhere. Buried emotions don’t go away. They will resurface again later if not dealt with. At the same time, you cannot let these painful emotions consume you either. Allow the feelings and your willingness to transcend them to become transforming. Let your anger and hurt tell you something about yourself. Let it tell you what is really important by telling you what makes you hurt.
Some people have a huge pain tolerance zone. They seem to be able to tolerate all kinds of contemptible behavior. They are able to ignore lies and deceit and are able to live with an abundance of feelings they should express but don’t. Their mantra is, “We just don’t talk about it.” They were probably raised in that kind of an environment. During their upbringing, forgiveness was not asked for, or expected, nor was it given. The absence of forgiveness in their relationships is what they know, and what they have grown to accept. However, their ability to tolerate and live with unexpressed conflict and the wearing of a tough façade that does not embrace the concept of forgiveness, are unhealthy traits in the context of a relationship.
Forgiveness is not masochistic. You do not expose yourself to more pain by forgiving someone. It is not a defeatist position. Forgiveness is the power of grace in action. Forgiveness is not surrendering to the person or the situation. It is surrendering to the now moment of your relationship. This now includes your personal interpretation of what happened and includes whatever you are feeling at this time. In this present moment you can choose to act from forgiveness. In the book The Power of Now, Erik Tolle states, “Forgiveness of the present is even more than forgiveness of the past.” To forgive in the present allows each moment to become part of a past that needs no forgiveness. It has already been given. This prevents a buildup of hurt feelings.
To clarify this, let’s look at an example. Let’s say that someone did or said something to you in the past that really hurt your feelings and you are still feeling pain from that event. In essence, you are presently experiencing feelings about what happened in the past. Just like your pain, forgiveness is also a present moment experience. You cannot forgive what happened in the past until you experience forgiveness in the present. This is how forgiveness severs the hold that the past has on you. Forgiveness is letting go now of wishing the past had been different.
We keep repeating patterns in our relationships, whether in the form of verbal arguments or physical behavior, because we have not fully accepted and forgiven what happened. Thus, the cycle continues, and we feel trapped in the past. Forgiveness is one means to ending the cycle, not replaying it. When you truly forgive another or yourself, you acknowledge that you have learned how to let go and, therefore, the past hurt no longer controls you.
People who label themselves as victims hold onto the past because they believe that the past is more powerful than the present. But all true power lies in the present. Forgiveness is a present state of mind where all true power lies. The only way to heal what happened in the past is to invite the power and grace of forgiveness to be part of the relationship NOW.
Forgiveness is not an acceptance of objectionable behavior. You can be adamant in your dislike of whatever was done or said to you, because it is something you do not want in your life now or in the future. In other words, you can make forgiveness a part of the process of owning your feelings, setting your boundaries, and claiming your space. Acceptance in this context means to surrender to the what is of the situation. Do not equate acceptance with approval. They are two separate feelings.
Forgiveness does not mean that there will not be consequences for bad behavior. The law of cause and effect comes into play even when forgiveness is given. It is the law of karma. “What you sow is what you reap.” When we hurt another, we should expect repercussions and consequences. However, that does not mean that it is YOUR job to dole out the consequences for another’s actions. Life has its own timetable for payment on karmic debt. Just know that retaliation keeps the cycle going and creates debt in our own karmic column. Forgiveness ends the cycle by cleaning your slate, not theirs. It means that you have become bigger than the egregious act itself.
To err is human, to forgive divine, to forget amnesic.
Forgiveness does not mean we get amnesia. We may never forget the pain we have endured, nor should anyone expect us to forget. Forgiving is not forgetting. Letting go is not forgetting.
Forgiving does not mean that you must deny what happened, either. Or implying “all is forgotten.” The memory may diminish over time until it is almost forgotten and it is just a vague shadow of a memory, but it is forever there as part of the relationship you shared. It can, however, be replaced with love, not for the person who behaved so egregiously but love for the wounded soul inside that person. Only a hurting soul intentionally causes pain to another.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~Plato
Forgiveness does not need to be requested to be given. The other person doesn’t have to say “I’m sorry” before forgiveness is given. It can be offered as an act of grace. It can be offered at any time. Some of the benefits of forgiving another can be achieved even if you do not openly or verbally forgive them. The mere act of having forgiveness in your heart is a gift you give yourself. Forgiveness allows you to let go of the emotional weight you have been carry around; it literally lightens your load. When you verbally acknowledge your forgiveness to the other person, your forgiveness then becomes a gift you give to them.
Forgiveness does not care who is at fault. Forgiveness is about letting go of the burden of assigning blame and guilt, two sides of the same coin. When we assign blame to someone we give away our power. We give away our responsibility for our own life. We mistakenly think that making another feel guilty will somehow make us feel better about ourselves. Instilling guilt on someone may make them change their behavior. We may get what we want out of them but it does not mean that the outcome is always for our highest good.
If someone felt joy and righteousness in making another feel guilty, then obviously these are the rules they have set up for the way they want to play life’s game. Just know that if you use guilt this way then you will attract others in your life who like to play by these rules too. So be careful. In your next relationship you might get to play the part of being guilty so they can be joyful and righteous. Playing by these rules will keep you stuck in one of these two revolving roles. Be mindful of what cycles you perpetuate.
Let’s take a look at a typical view of forgiveness. When you were growing up, you were taught the general idea of forgiveness. Remember how you were told to tell your big brother or sister you forgave them after they said they were sorry for hitting you. They said the words, “I’m sorry,” but did you really believe them? Did they really mean it? Were they really sorry they hit you, or were they just sorry they got caught? Did you really mean it when you said you forgave them or were you just going through the motions, saying the appropriate words at appropriate times, much like an expected please and an obligatory thank you? Are we still just acting like little children saying “I’m sorry” to our loved ones so we can get permission to go back to playing? Isn’t it easier to just go back and play than to stop and acknowledge how much we have hurt each other?
Maybe what has happened it that we have been taught the superficial politeness of forgiveness consisting of what we are supposed to say. We were taught to recite, “…and forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We learned in Sunday school that God forgives us for our sins. We learned all the right words, but forgiveness is not just about the words. It is about the opportunity to express the spark of divinity in all of us.
As Jesus taught, “these things I do you will do also.” Jesus told us that God is a forgiving God, and if we are created in His image, then isn’t it in our true nature to be forgiving too? Is it our fear of acknowledging the divinity of God inside us that prevents us from forgiving? Do we not forgive because we are afraid of acting so divinely? Is our stubbornness in holding back forgiveness just a way of denying our responsibility to be all that we can be – all that God wants us to be?
If we talk about forgiveness we must include forgiving ourselves. Were we ever really shown how to forgive ourselves? Forgiveness often is taught as an outpouring of love to another. How about forgiving ourselves for mistakes for which we felt remorse? Have we kept making the same mistakes because we failed to forgive ourselves so that we could move on? If we are not able to forgive ourselves does that make it harder for us to forgive others?
Think about an important relationship in your life where there is still hurt between you. Have either one of you apologized? And if so, what did you really mean?
Were you saying, “I’m sorry that I hurt you; I was being inconsiderate of your feelings and I’ll try and do better next time.” Or do you mean, “I’m sorry that you are so sensitive that your feelings got hurt. If I happen to do it again, I’ll apologize again and give you the opportunity to be the forgiving person that you are.”
Then again, are there times in which you have been afraid of saying “I’m sorry” to someone because you didn’t feel that they would believe you and accept your apology? How does it make you feel when you don’t think someone would accept your apology?
Forgiveness is not always an easy process with clear cut emotions. Sometimes we truly are sorry that we hurt someone and then there also could be times when we feel that the other person is being overly sensitive, and it is troublesome for us to have to watch everything we say and do around them. The best relationships are the ones where forgiveness comes naturally and without a lot of fanfare. You can tell how strong a relationship is by its recovery time from a disagreement. True, from the heart forgiveness helps heal the wound and shortens the recovery time.
Forgiveness as being an act of love makes it unlimited, but that does not give us the right to abuse its graciousness. If you are easily offended and you frequently have misunderstandings with other people and you feel like you are always owed an apology, maybe you have a spell check or grammar check program that is working overtime. Let other’s imperfections and communication errors sometimes be part of what makes them who they are. Did you ever think that maybe it is you who is not communicating the best you could either? Being in a relationship with someone who is overly sensitive is like operating in an emotional mind field. Become aware when you are in a relationship where feelings on both sides are constantly being hurt. There is something deeper going on than what is showing up on the surface.
When another person makes an error in your relationship you have two choices. You can either, be hurt, get angry and go straight to blame and guilt. Or, be hurt, get angry, and then communicate how the words or behavior made you feel. Then you inwardly or outwardly forgive the other person.
Every emotion, whether good or bad, is experienced somewhere in the body. When someone has wronged you, if you do not find ways to release that emotion, it will find its own way to be released. Unacknowledged or suppressed feelings of bitterness and resentment eat away at our bodies. Diseases of the heart and the stomach are often the result of unresolved pain from hurt feelings. We develop hardening of the arteries, stomach ulcers and many other diseases because we close off paths to love and our connection to spiritual nourishment. Forgiveness helps break the bond between your feelings of resentment and physical pain.
Resentment is when you drink poison and expect the other person to die.
When you hold on to anger toward another, especially those you have loved, and you do not take the opportunity to forgive, you pass up a chance to grow and evolve. Moreover, without being shown how to forgive, any children you have might also learn to hold onto feelings of bitterness. When their learned feelings of resentment get too painful to hold onto anymore they may be inclined one day to return these feelings to their source. Eventually, your children might return their feelings of resentment to you, the source of their pain. What have you been teaching your children or family about forgiveness through your actions?
Forgiveness is the bearer of light that can rid you of the darkness of resentment
and spare your children from its shadow.
In every relationship we are both the teacher and the student, the giver and the taker, the trustor and the trustee, the lover and the loved, the forgiver and the forgiven. Our most intimate relationships are our greatest teachers because they give us the greatest opportunity to experience all of who we are, all of our hopes, all of our fears, all of our talents, and all of our weaknesses. When the lessons get too hard, it may be time to create space and take a break. When this happens, forgive yourself for your inability to endure. Time-outs are not just for kids. Adults benefit from some quiet time alone to think things through.
If you have difficulty forgiving your spouse or another close person in your life, try forgiving yourself first for your own mistakes in the relationship. If you are still holding on to hurt feelings from a failed marriage, then sit for awhile and consider the idea of applying forgiveness. Do you think that God only blesses and grants forgiveness to those people who stay married? God is able to forgive all because He acknowledges all. We cannot forgive what we do not first acknowledge. Is it better to be in an unforgiving and contentious marriage, or to experience an honest and forgiving relationship post divorce?
Acknowledge not only who your spouse was but also we he/she was not. For example, your spouse may have been a great financial provider but not emotionally available. You may have been a terrific homemaker but not very good at budgeting. You both may be terrific parents, but you are not best friends. You may have been great sex partners for one another, but not consoling companions.
Forgive your spouse for falling off the white horse of your expectations of them. Then forgive yourself for putting them up there in the first place. When you let them dismount, you might be able to see how to forgive them for who they are and also for whom they are not.
It is a powerful experience to forgive someone for not living up to our needs, and our expectations of who we want them to be, just as it is powerful to forgive ourselves for not living up to our expectations of ourselves. In essence, the act of forgiving another person, even an ex-spouse, brings God back to your relationship and preserves its greater purpose.
A divorce decree may dissolve a legal marriage, but if your relationship with your former spouse includes forgiveness, the higher purpose of your relationship can remain intact. Forgiveness is an act of love, and love is energy. Therefore, forgiveness will bring energy back to your relationship and breathe life into what you thought was dead. Not as a resurrection of the old relationship, but as a renewal of who you both want to be in the future. Forgiveness helps fill the heart that feels empty.
The physical and emotional space of a divorce of any relationship provides a wonderful opportunity to learn lessons that you missed somewhere along the way. Just like you cannot hit a backspace button and retrieve old e-mails, you cannot go back and correct past mistakes in your relationships. The emails have already been sent and received, the words of your relationship have been exchanged, and the actions have left their mark. What you can do is send out new and revised e-mails that include additions and corrections. You can acknowledge where you erred and apologize. You can forgive one another, even if that is just in your own heart, for all the hurt you caused each other.
While it is important that we catch small errors as they arise in our relationships so that they are not allowed to fester and grow, it is equally important to sometimes ignore the minor mistakes. Slight imperfections are what allow our humanness to show through, and they make us each uniquely fallible.
When you offer forgiveness it helps you move through your pain so that you can move on. Do not forget to forgive yourself too. When you make a mistake you have a wonderful opportunity to learn from it. Do not just count all your mistakes. Count your lessons. And realize how much you have grown from the experience.
One reason we find it so hard to forgive our loved ones is that we are out of practice. We do not make it part of our consciousness to forgive every day. So here is an exercise to teach you how easy forgiveness can be and how good it can make you feel. It literally does lighten your load and lifts your spirits.
By practicing little acts of forgiveness, you can make it easier to forgive the bigger stuff. Make forgiveness a daily habit and let this habit become a part of who you are more often.
Throughout your day look for every possible excuse for extending forgiveness. This does not have to be outwardly or verbally expressed; just mentally recognize the opportunity to forgive. To begin, start noticing those times when something did not go your way and acknowledge it, forgive the trespasser or whatever happened, and then let it go. Think of this phrase often or when appropriate:
Oh well, that’s what’s so.
Forgive, let it be then let it go!
Here are some fun examples to get you started. Say to yourself, “I forgive…
The person in front of me who let the door slam in my face.
The dog who pooped on my lawn and the owner who didn’t pick it up.
The mail carrier who mis-delivered my mail.
My employer for not giving me a raise for all my hard work.
My doctor’s office for making me wait so long.
My hair dresser who didn’t have an opening on my day off.
My cat for sleeping and shedding on my clean sheets.
My accountant for being such a stickler about receipts.
The teenage sales person who gave me incorrect change.
My child for missing the bus for the third straight day.
My co-worker who didn’t learn to clean up after themselves.
My dog for being too curious and getting skunked.
My congressman for being so inept.
My CIP for voting for him or her.
The rap group that made profane words sound cool to my kids.
The plumber who forgot to turn my water back on when he left.
Myself for forgetting to forgive.
Forgiveness is a joyful experience. So have fun with this exercise. The opportunities are endless. Live your life with forgiveness on your lips and watch how the experience of your life will be transformed.