Forgiveness: What?! Why? How?

After writing my previous post, I started thinking about forgiveness and how I’ve struggled with it in the past. Now I understand what it is, why I should forgive, and how to forgive.

I’ll start out with the why. You’ve probably heard that forgiveness is good—mostly for you, rather than for the person who wrongs you. When we harbor the negative emotions that come with unforgiveness—resentment, anger, pain, bitterness—they literally poison our bodies and cause all kinds of disease. Besides, refusing to forgive just makes us downright miserable, and life is too short to for unnecessary misery.

Well, then, what is this forgiveness and how do I do it? I’m glad you asked! I used to be reluctant to forgive because I thought forgiveness was letting the other person get away with wrongdoing. I figured it required me to forget, which was practically impossible with the kind of memory I have. I’ve since discovered that forgiveness is neither of these things. Forgiveness is not excusing the other person’s behavior nor a declaration that the individual didn’t do anything wrong. Also, it doesn’t always lead to reconciliation.

Forgiveness is a choice and a process. It is a choice to give up my need for revenge—that protective instinct that rises up in us when we are harmed. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to make others suffer as much as I did from their actions. Chances are, even if I could make them suffer in the same way, I would find that I did not enjoy it. On top of that, those negative emotions would still end up poisoning my body, emotions, and spirit.

To forgive is to recognize that someone took something from you that mattered, but you choose to let it go for your own peace of mind, your happiness. The person may not be remorseful, may not even apologize, but you choose not to hate the person. You recognize that some wrongs can never be righted anyway—like when a drunk driver causes the death of your loved one. Nothing the person could do would bring back your loved one.

Here’s the thing about forgiveness—it is rarely a one-time deal. You may have to forgive the same person or offense multiple times before it stops chafing your soul. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Note that time on its own does not bring healing. But the choices we make over time can bring healing.

I am still forgiving some people years down the road. Their actions came out of left field and wounded me so deeply that it has taken hundreds of forgiveness choices to let it go. I hardly ever think of their offenses these days, but something will sometimes unexpectedly trigger a memory, and I will feel the pain and anger rising up. And in that moment I choose, again, to forgive. I am happier and healthier for it. Now I can spend my days making new, happy memories, instead of obsessing over unhappy ones or planning revenge.

If you have struggled with forgiveness, or if it hasn’t made sense to you, I hope this helps. Remember, life is too short for unnecessary misery. Here’s to happier days!

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