From the human perspective, forgiveness is certainly not an easy thing to do. More often than not, someone else has to suggest it to us, if not urge us on. Others may see the need for forgiveness long before we are ready to forgive. How often have you heard this conversation or one similar to it? "Why don't you just forgive him (or her) and get on with your life?" The angry reply snaps back, "Why should I? He (or she) doesn't deserve it!" That question deserves a thorough answer. Why should I forgive?
Frankly, forgiveness has many drawbacks. There are at least two sides to everything, and forgiveness is no exception. Forgiveness is a choice. Only after gathering all the pertinent information can you make the best choice possible. There are some powerful benefits and incentives for forgiving another, but there are also some steep costs.
Here are some of the costs. Forgiveness carries with it a willingness to give up our desire to get even. We have to settle for an uneven score. It means we have to give up the role of victim. We have to stop blaming someone else for our misery and take responsibility for our selves and our own happiness. Often, we cling to the idea that, if this thing had not happened to us, our lives would be perfect. This is pure illusion, and has to be given up. The anger, bitterness and resentment we carry serve as a barrier to protect us from further pain, anxiety or self-doubt. We mistakenly believe that if we hang on to these feelings, as long as we remember the hurt, then we won't be hurt again. When we forgive, we must let go of these feelings and letting go will certainly make us feel more vulnerable.
Often, we feel a sense of power in refusing to forgive someone, holding our refusal over the head of our enemy. The refusal to forgive compensates somewhat for the powerlessness we felt when we were hurt. In forgiving, we would have to relinquish that power. We have to let go of the belief that our enemies deserve to be punished by us as well as the illusion that punishing them will somehow heal us.
Many people believe that they are betraying themselves if they forgive someone who hurt them. This may be especially true of those who have been more seriously hurt. They believe that forgiveness somehow negates or minimizes their pain and suffering, or worse that it condones the behavior that caused their hurt. None of these things is true.
In no way does forgiveness condone nor excuse the behavior of our enemy. Forgiveness is not the same as tolerance; forgiveness takes place within the framework of justice. Nor is forgiveness a self-betrayal. In fact, the primary beneficiary of forgiveness is the person who forgives. I once heard someone describe forgiveness in this way, "To forgive is to open your heart enough to heal the wound." Who benefits most from the healing of your wounds? You do, of course!
Forgiving does not negate nor even minimize a person's pain and suffering. In fact, we cannot forgive what we do not acknowledge so true forgiveness begins with a critical examination of our pain. Forgiving starts with opening our hearts. There we see the consequences of the injury. If our vision is particularly clear, we see the consequences for both our self and our enemy. Forgiving ends with the healing of our wounds, but this cannot happen if we do not acknowledge their existence.
The answer to your question "Why should I forgive?" would not be complete without reviewing the contents of an unforgiving heart and the benefits of forgiveness. First consider the unforgiving heart.
The unforgiving heart ponders the injury, the reasons why that person deserves punishment and the reasons why they don't deserve our mercy or forgiveness. Left unchecked, we soon begin to distort the offense and make it out to be something more or altogether different than it really is. We then misinterpret and distort the enemy's words and actions. Before long, we are thinking negatively about anything and everything associated with that person, and resent the offender's success. All voluntary social contact with the enemy stops. We withdraw from anything that might bring them into touch. We don't talk with them and refuse to lend support or help when it is needed, and might even go so far as to inflict a little injury of our own. With others, we talk about the faults of our enemy. As a result of focusing on their faults, we fail to see our own and risk becoming rooted in them. We easily believe that we are better than the offender. Then the unforgiving heart becomes very much like the object of its hate.
These are decidedly negative consequences of an unforgiving heart. On the other hand, there are some very positive reasons for forgiving. The benefits to forgiving are life giving, literally and figuratively. First of all, forgiving releases us from the intense negative emotions associated with the pain of injury. Not only does this bring about a decrease in physical ailments caused by stress and anxiety, but actually increases our physical and emotional energy. It gives us a sense of well-being, independence and wholeness. Our self-esteem will be raised and, most importantly, we will have a sense of inner peace. Doesn’t that sound like a great reason to forgive?
Take care of yourself! Get healthy! Think about taking those first steps toward personal peace. What are those steps? To begin, Step toward Forgiveness.
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