Thinking Out-loud #2: On Forgiveness
After having the headlight on my bike stolen for the second time in one month, I originally named this entry “On Thieves,” planning to rant for 500 words about how thieves are the scourge of the Earth, unfit to live among society, and so on and so on. But I couldn’t bring myself to do that, nor could I imagine anyone wanting to read something so innately unimportant. So I wracked my brain for something else to say about thieves, something more universal and meaningful, yet personal enough to release the rage that had built up inside.
Nothing good came to me, though. After half an hour of searching, writing, and deleting, I was tired. “Forget it,” I said, shoving myself (in my rolling chair) as far from the computer desk as possible. It turns out the thief just wasn’t that important, and it was time to let it go, move on. That’s when my topic appeared. In my attempts to write, I had been working through my frustration. At the same time, forgiveness had been welling up to take its place. The moment I let it go (and no, I won’t be singing Disney’s latest hit song…at least not out loud ), the well became a fountain, a geyser, erupting with feelings of peace, freedom, joy. That was something worth writing about.
Forgiveness is an idea about which we hear so much yet understand so little. The Bible has numerous verses about it such as Matthew 18:21-22, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times,’” and Ephesians 2:31-32, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Many other popular figures have commented on forgiveness as well. Here are the comments of a few:
Okay, so the last one is more for humor, but I’m sure you get the idea. Even so, none of those quotes actually defines forgiveness or explains why it’s important. That is what I will attempt to do.
- “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Ghandi
- “When you forgive me for harming you, you decide not to retaliate, to seek no revenge. You don’t have to like me. You simply unburden yourself of the weight of resentment and cut the cycle of retribution that would otherwise keep us ensnarled in an ugly samsaric wrestling match. This is a gift you can give us both, totally on your own, without my having to know or understand what you’ve done.” – The Buddha
- “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.” – Oscar Wilde
According to Merriam-Webster, to forgive is defined as:
In other words, it is to stop the internal suffering and the need for retribution. But what exactly does this do for you?
On a personal level, forgiveness is the most important step in self-healing. Whether you must forgive yourself, or someone else, you must do so in order to truly let go of the pain that keeps old wound fresh. The act of forgiving allows you to see that you are alive, and that opens the door for hope and joy to enter. Forgiveness is also release from all the burdens that pain, anger, and vengefulness create.
When someone hurts us, our natural impulse is to reciprocate. But think. Does it really make the pain go away? Does it make us like the person any better? Does it make the person stop wanting to hurt us? If anything, holding on to bitterness, seeking retribution, deepens the divide that separates us from them, creating a circle of anger and suffering. The thing about circles is that they don’t stop… By choosing to forgive, we break the cycle, removing ourselves from the negative feelings that urge us to circulate negative action.
On a social level, forgiveness is both healing and elevating. When we forgive others, we create a frequency of loving energy that someone else might pick up and resonate. That is to say, we become emitters of positivity instead of transmitters of negativity. Furthermore, choosing to forgive our enemies, allows them to encounter love in action. Yes, love is an action, not a feeling, and forgiveness is the first action of “loving one’s enemies.” For them, this is an opportunity for someone to invest something good in them. Maybe by making this deposit in them, we can build up the good person who lives inside. If so, that person has the potential become another positive energy center, emitting good vibrations into our atmosphere.
All this forgiveness sounds like a lot of work though. What if a girl isn’t ready to forgive the guy who cheated on her? What if a man isn't ready to forgive the father who beat him as a boy? What if I’m not ready to forgive the jerks who stole my computer, or the ones who stole my bike, or the ones who stole my headlight? Well the truth is, forgiveness takes time; you don’t have to force it. In the words of Christian author, Lewis B. Smedes, “You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”
What I've learned is that people are damaged—sick, if you will. Those who are willing to do harm to others are not whole, and we should pity them. It may not seem like they deserve it, but who among us always gets exactly what we deserve? Sometimes mercy can do more good for a person than justice. Moreover, we should want to do them well—despite their lack of mercy towards us—because it is within our power to make a better world. Everyone needs a second chance sometimes. If you can’t bring yourself to give your enemy a second chance, look at forgiveness as your second chance to live happily. What’s that old saying? “Forgiveness is not for the other person…”
So there you have it: my (unintended) sermon on forgiveness. (This may be more boring than my rant about thieves being selfish jerks, vermin unworthy to breathe the same air as the rest of us, and so on and so on. ) What do you think? Is forgiveness as easy as I make it sound? Is it as vital as I suggest? Agree or disagree, remember: I’m just one guy thinking out-loud. Your thoughts are the ones that matter, so comment below and let me know.
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