Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Gift of Forgiveness

   It is difficult, if not impossible, to believe that there is someone reading this article who has not been hurt by a friend or loved one at some point in their life.  Some of these painful acts on the part of the other person may be the result of thoughtlessness and others may have been deliberate.  Either way it is important that the person who was hurt forgive the person who hurt them.  This act of forgiveness is emotionally beneficial to the person offering the forgiveness regardless of whether the other person is willing to apologize or not.

   Before discussing why it is important for the person who was hurt to offer forgiveness, it is necessary to discuss what is meant by forgiveness.  Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you may always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, more positive parts of your life. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy, and compassion for the one who hurt you.

   Forgiveness does not mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you and it does not minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life. 1

     In addition to giving a person peace of mind to help them go on with their life, it also has certain other benefits as well, such as, healthier relationships, greater spiritual and psychological well-being, less stress and hostility, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, and a lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse.

    One of the challenges in regard to offering forgiveness is that it is often connected with “forgetting”.   How many times has it been said, “Forgive and forget”?  The first act is an act of the will, but the second act is not.  It is impossible to control whether or not one forgets what has happened.  Even if it is possible to consciously put such events out of your mind, it is impossible to control your subconscious mind.  While those who make the statement, “Forgive and forget” may be well intentioned, the reality is that such a statement actually blames the person who has been hurt for feeling the way that they do because he or she “cannot simply move on with their life and forget.”  Therefore, this person is being victimized once again. 

    Forgiveness can be challenging. It may be particularly difficult to forgive someone who does not admit wrong or does not speak of his or her sorrow. If you find yourself stuck, it may help to write in a journal, pray or use guided meditation. You may want to talk with a person you have found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider, or an unbiased family member or friend. You may also want to reflect on times you have hurt others and on those who have forgiven you. Keep in mind that forgiveness has the potential to increase your sense of integrity, peace and overall well-being.

   The issue of forgiveness has been written about in The Bible and various other sources.  One of those sources is The Letter by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860-1904).  In this novel, the aged Father Anastasy, on the Eve of Easter, overstays his visit with the younger Father Fyodor (the ‘dean’ of the parishes in that district) this is a most inappropriate time for such a visit.  However, along with Deacon Liubinov, Father Anastasy struggles to work out a “family problem” and seeks help from the more refined Father Fyodor.   With his help, the widowed deacon writes a stern letter to his son, but later, convinced by the elder priest to ‘forgive’. The deacon, in a paradoxical and comical post-script to his letter, shows Christian compassion for his wayward son, thus undermining the sternness which he wished to project at the outset of the letter. 2

   One of the suggestions for helping with forgiveness is the idea of speaking with someone that you believe to be wise.  While the Eve of Easter is a very busy time, especially for both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (with their strong liturgical traditions), the timing is very appropriate.  The Season of Easter is a season of forgiveness. 

    Forgiveness is very important gift for the person who has been hurt because it is cathartic.  It relieves the burden of having to walk around with feelings or anger or resentment.  These feelings can destroy a person emotionally.  Even if the person who is being forgiven never acknowledges any wrongdoing or even knows that he or she has been forgiven, it is beneficial to the person who was hurt to offer forgiveness.  It is a gift which you can give to yourself that will benefit you for many years to come.
                                                  End Notes

1)         “Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness”

2)         Rodney J. Hunter (ed.) Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling (TN: Abingdon Press, 1990), p. 164

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