Perhaps the number one killer of mental and relational health in America is the refusal to go through the learning experience of emotional pain. But I believe our next biggest mental health buzz kill is our refusal to forgive others and ourselves. I just have to take a stab here at trying to reduce this colossal waste of serenity.
Forgiveness is a private act. It is first of all an act of the mind and the will. You first have to promise with all that you are that you will no longer scheme, hope, and work to get even, to make the other party hurt so bad they will repent and try to make it up to you. If you think you can’t, start with praying for the welfare of the one who hurt you, and ask for the courage and wisdom to make that promise and keep it. Only then can the words, actions, and finally the emotions of forgiveness come through you.
It may never include an “I forgive you” talk. Sometimes the purpose of forgiving someone is to restore our closeness in that relationship, and other times it is to allow detachment to create more distance. How forgiveness is expressed depends on the other person, on the relationship, its purpose, and how it will be acted out. But some purposes are common to all occasions of forgiveness. Let’s look for some motivations to forgive.
Christians are told that when the children of God forgive each other, it makes God happy.
I believe it, as I believe God loves us and knows that forgiveness is good for us. It reduces the war and crime in our society, and on a personal level, it reduces our resentments, arguments, divorces, ulcers, insomnia and addictions. Besides, being kind and polite to our enemies without needing or expecting anything in return is just the best way to keep our enemies at a safe distance.
Everyone! We need to forgive whoever we are angry at, whoever we dread seeing at Walmart or McDonald's, and generally, anybody that can make us mad just by being happy. We also need to forgive ourselves. Believing that we have been forgiven by God or another person without forgiving ourselves is just like leaving a Christmas present all wrapped up under the tree -- it gives no joy to the giver or the receiver until we take it out into our everyday lives and enjoy playing with it.
We need to forgive everything they have ever done wrong, to us, to our loved ones or theirs, to themselves or others. We also need to forgive every good thing they have failed to do, and every bad thing they will ever do in the future. Past, present, and future, we are to love the sinner and hate the sin.
Now understand that forgiveness is not trust. Unlike forgiveness, trust has to be earned. We need to forgive for our own sakes, long before the other person has earned our trust that they won’t hurt us again. And if our enemy DOES mess up and try to hurt us again, we need to trust ourselves to get over it when they do. This is a heck of a lot easier to do when we can kindly and politely forgive and wish them well without expecting anything in return. We can trust ourselves to get over another betrayal if we know how and why to forgive, and how to set and enforce healthy boundaries for ourselves (more about those below).
And forgiveness does not mean condoning the other person's behavior. It may or may not be a good idea to tell the other person you still think what they did was wrong, but it is always okay to say, "It is not that I am condoning or excusing what you did, I am just forgiving you."
ASAP. Don't wait until the other person repents, reforms, asks for forgiveness, or even admits that they were wrong. You sure don't need to wait until you feel like it, because forgiveness is a matter of faith, not feeling. Don't wait until you understand the other person, or why they hurt you. When it comes to forgiveness, just do it.
First, make a decision to forgive yourself as well as others, because you can’t hold onto forgiveness unless you keep giving it away. Forgiveness can't be given until it has been received, not from your enemy, but from someone that accepts you as you are. To accept yourself as you are, warts and all, you must first admit and accept your weaknesses, and repent of your mistakes and bad habits. Strength is only made perfect in weakness. Only when you know you need more grace than you deserve can you give forgiveness that isn’t earned. Like with money, you must have some forgiveness to give it away. Before you can put a smile on your face, you have to put one in your heart, every day. Treat yourself as you treat others: hate the sin (yours included), but love the sinner (yourself included).
The next step to safety is to drop the rock of resentment. Figure out other ways of making yourself feel safe without carrying around anger to bodyguard your heart. Believing that a resentment can be justified and smart is like wearing a gun on your hip – it keeps gentle people at a distance, attracts fighters, and generally provokes suspicion and rejection. Commit to a life work of daily giving up your resentments, justifications, plans for revenge, and wishes for your enemy to suffer or fail. Carrying a live resentment around is like loading up your gun and wearing bullets on your belt – you 're carrying a chip on your shoulder, wearing your hurt on your sleeve, and just asking for trouble.
Third, choose and meditate on healthy beliefs. You can never prove these beliefs right or wrong, but you can prove without a doubt the internal results of holding these beliefs. You can know if they calm you down. So taste the following beliefs, see that they have a healthy and calming effect on your relationships. Then start meditating on them, so you will remember them on the spot, and be able to act upon them: ~ All human beings are capable of repentance and reform. ~ If we were born into our enemies’ bodies and situations, we don't know whether or not we might have turned out much worse. ~ “Who are you to judge the servant of another?” asks Paul in Romans 14:4. ~ When we are kind to them without needing or expecting anything in return, it delivers deep and painful wounds to their prideful and vengeful egos. ~ What our enemies may need to hear they wouldn’t be able to hear from us. ~ So we can just “Let go, and let God.”
Finally, resolve to protect yourself by showing love and respect from a healthy distance. Set and carefully keep healthy boundaries. A boundary is not a threat to another person, but a promise to yourself of what you will do to protect yourself if they violate your safety zone. Protective behaviors that do not attack might include remarks such as, “Well that's your opinion,” or “I'm sorry you feel that way.” The important thing when you are threatened or insulted is to immediately change the subject or end the conversation, before you take offense, or let yourself get upset. Otherwise, your distress will show, and that would be showing blood to a shark. You can’t play it cool on the outside without being cool on the inside, and you can’t do that without forgiving all around. If you pray for them in private, you can speak to them and about them respectfully in public. Or, instead of talking, make brief eye contact, give a quick little nod of recognition with a quick little smile, then move on to avoid them. If you don’t shine a light of goodwill on your enemies, you remain the frightened deer, when you could so much more enjoy being the headlights on high beam.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach you can reach at [email protected], (502) 633-2860.