Normally, I try to limit the length of my posts to a concise amount of words. I respect your time, and you have a life to get back to.
Today’s post, however, is a little longer. But the point of it is important. So, I’m sharing it with you. And I hope you find it helpful in some way.
It is one of the most difficult things a human being can try to do.
Your heart aches. Your head hurts. And the feeling that you just got blindsided is completely overwhelming.
It could be from many things: an act of violence, theft, infidelity, gossip, or many others.
The bottom line is someone else hurt you. Someone you trusted. Someone you never thought would stab you in the back.
Yet here you are, dying on the inside, and watching your world spiral out of control.
You know you have to let it go before it tears you apart. And you also know the only way to get back your sanity and your life is through forgiving the other person. Even though you realize this, or at least have heard this before, it is much easier said than done.
When everything in your being is crying out for vengeance, payback, retribution, or at the very least, the last laugh, how can we overcome all of those feelings to bring about true forgiveness in our hearts?
There are some old cliches that people always seem to use when it comes to stuff like forgiveness. And while these sayings may be true in a ballpark-sort-of-way, they are hardly helpful when the moment is most desperate.
What we need to understand is the secret to opening our hearts and minds to forgiveness.
Fortune Cookie Cliches
It seems like whenever I open up a fortune cookie and read the little piece of paper, all I get are vague promises and empty generalities. That’s okay. I mean, the shotgun approach works to entertain people.
And I’m pretty sure no one takes those little sayings too seriously.
Whenever you experience a tough time in your life, though, those vague words of hope seem to be more irritating than effective, let alone entertaining.
I remember when I had first started off as a high school guidance counselor, a girl had come to me about a problem she was having. I explained to her that the only thing that would make her feel better was the passing of time until she had let go of the pain.
“Did you just tell me time will heal all wounds?” she asked, derisively.
I guess in a way, I kind of did. I gave her fortune cookie advice.
The big problem with giving that kind of advice or taking it to heart (other than the fact that it is hokum) is that it is non-actionable. It suggests that fate will determine what happens in your life and there is nothing you can do about it.
This is contrary to both religious and scientific study. We know that we have free will, and that our consciousness alone can affect outcomes in our lives at the sub-atomic level (see The Double Slit Experiment.)
We are not made to sit idly by and simply watch as life pushes us where it wants us to go. We are designed to make choices that can change the outcomes in our lives.
This means that insinuating we should just wait for the passage of time to heal our wounds is preposterous. It is an insult to our ability to choose. And moreover, it is directly contrary to our nature of wanting to fix things or make things better.
I don’t watch the news. I can’t stand it. It seems like there are constantly stories of misery or heartache flowing across the high definition screen.
It troubles me to see such things. So, I don’t watch often.
But from time to time, I will catch a story that absolutely hits me: A woman’s child hit and killed by a drunk driver, boy shot down in a drive-by shooting, a young girl is raped, a father watches as his home burns with his family inside, victims of arson.
These things are horrific, tragic examples of things that can happen. When we look at events like this, it can arouse a flood of emotions. Usually, anger is at the top of that list.
Strangely, we occasionally see how the people who are affected the most talk about forgiving those who have hurt them. They have a peace about them that passes all understanding.
How is this possible? Those people should demand blood for blood, an eye for an eye! Right?
I experienced this kind of thing firsthand in my fifth year as a school counselor. One of my students was shot and killed just outside a convenience store after a day of swimming with his friends.
The community was outraged at the murder. The fact that the suspects were known gang members only served to further anger the people.
I remember watching in awe as the father of the boy stepped up to a microphone in front of several news cameras and told the media that their hearts were heavy, but they forgave the young men who had taken their son’s life. The man went on to tell the people that there would be no need for revenge because the act was forgiven.
I tried to wrap my head around this. Did the father really mean it? Or was it just one of those things that people said when they were trying to be a good example in the media?
I know he meant it. Because I spoke with him.
I’ve seen other people do this in similarly tragic situations. And within their actions is a huge clue that lends a glimpse into the secret of forgiving.
The Secret to Forgiveness
When I spoke to the father about his son’s murder and how he was able to forgive the killers, I asked him how he could do it. He told me something interesting. He said he was deeply saddened by the event and the decision the young men had made, but that he could also make a decision to be at peace with it and forgive them in his heart.
We often confuse forgiveness with resolution. We feel like issues need to be resolved between two parties before anything is really settled or forgiveness achieved. Another word for it is closure.
The truth is, forgiveness can never be given to anyone. It can’t even be offered.
It simply has to stem from a choice that you make to be at peace with yourself and your reaction. But how? How do you achieve that peace when it feels so natural to hold onto resentment and bitterness?
Sure, as time passes, we think less and less about the grievances done against us. That hardly helps us right now, though.
Whenever I am faced with a difficult situation like someone wronging me, I have to force myself to remember one important thing: I can only control my actions and my decisions.
I cannot control what other people do. I can influence them. I can convey ideas or physical insults. But I cannot control anything in their mind. I can, however, control everything in my own.
What does that have to do with forgiveness?
You see, people are going to do what they are going to do. And there’s nothing you can do to stop that. They will lie, cheat, steal, murder, rape, and do everything wrong you can think of. But holding a grudge or reaping revenge only serves to continue the trend of wrong doings.
If you choose to forgive, though, it changes the pattern. I takes a series of negatives and injects something neutral into the chain.
It doesn’t make you happy. That may take a while, and that is where the time healing wounds saying is true. But it can give you peace because you have actively chosen your path of action.
You can have the peace of knowing that you are a good person, that you are going to be okay, and that despite the bad stuff that has happened. You will not bend to rampant emotion.
And that’s it. That’s the secret. Knowing what you can and cannot control in life can give you peace in any situation, though some are tougher than others.
The knowledge that sometimes people will choose to hurt you is a given. What you choose is entirely up to you.
If you found this post helpful, please share it with a friend. With so many social media tools, it’s easy to pass along a useful bit of info to a friend who might need it. You never know how much you might be helping someone.
I’d also love to hear your comments below.
Have a great week.