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How Can I Forgive

Forgiveness is a decision.  For most of us, it takes time to come to the decision to forgive an enemy.  Sometimes, if the hurt is very deep, it takes a great deal of time to make this decision to forgive.  But sooner or later, we decide to do what is best for us even if our enemy benefits from it.   Forgiving an enemy may benefit him or her.  It is definitely and most beneficial, however, for the one who forgives. 

Forgiveness is a decision that takes place in a moment of time.  Frequently, there is a process leading up to the decision to forgive, but forgiveness itself takes place in a moment.  This is the moment when we choose to give up our false beliefs, our illusions, our anger and resentments, and choose peace over pain.

All too often, in our humanness, we decide to pick up our pain again, especially if we are re-injured.  Then we carry not only the present injury, but also the pain from the past.  But maybe for one day we can decide to forgive - maybe for one day, we can decide to love ourselves enough to forgive our enemy. 

We may be called upon to forgive the same offense innumerable times.  We might feel like forgiving one day, but the next day, we feel angry again. Forgiveness is atypical behavior.  It is not instinctive

A very good thing about forgiving is that I don't need the enemy present to forgive.  I can do it all by myself.  Forgiveness is an attitude of the heart; it only requires one person.  I don't have to confront my enemy to forgive him or her.  My enemy might even be dead; I can still forgive and receive all the benefits of forgiveness.        

Speaking the words of forgiveness is sometimes helpful to both the forgiver and the forgiven, but speaking isn't necessary.  In fact, sometimes words might inflame the situation.  That would certainly be true if your enemy doesn't acknowledge that he or she did anything harmful to you.   

Forgiveness is absolutely unconditional.  It isn't forgiving to say, "I'll forgive you when you show some remorse or when I think you've been punished enough for what you did to me."  That is an ultimatum.  If we say, "I'll forgive you if you say you are sorry", then it isn't forgiveness; it is a deal.  Nor is it forgiveness to say,  "I'll forgive you, but you'd better not ever do that again."  or "I'll forgive you, but I'm never going to forget it."  This is a thinly veiled threat.  There are no "ifs", "whens" or "buts" in forgiveness.  Either forgiveness is given freely and unconditionally or it is not given.  

Everyone has heard the phrase, "forgive and forget."  We, however, do not have the ability to willfully erase select portions of our memories.  Even if we could, it might not be a good idea from a psychological standpoint.  We learn valuable lessons from all our experiences, both good and bad.  To erase the experience would be to erase what we learned from it.  

In regard to forgiveness, forgetting means that we do not nurture the pain or memory.  We don't dwell on the details nor embellish their impact.  Instead, we intentionally refrain from calling the injury to mind.  A secondary understanding of forgetting is that we don't recall every offense each time we are offended.  Here’s an example.  You are angry that your spouse is once again late for supper.  The later he or she is, the longer you have to consider the injustice and the more you fume.  By the time your spouse gets home you are furious. When the door finally opens, you explode with a lecture on your spouse’s total lack of consideration including a lengthy litany of every offense as evidence to support your case.  If an offense is forgiven, it is not a weapon.

Forgiveness need not be passive.  A person who forgives does not have to forego their right to legal and just retribution.  In fact, demanding retribution could be an act of love.  It requires a person to be responsible for his or her behavior.  These actions move forgiveness toward reconciliation, which we can examine at another time. 

Obviously, there are many good reasons to forgive, but desiring to forgive does not always mean being able to do so.  Here are some suggestions that may help you move toward the readiness to forgive. 

The path may not be straight.

Steps toward forgiveness

Admit that you have been hurt

Examine your pain thoroughly – What has the offense cost you?

Part of taking a realistic look at your pain is also looking at the "payoff" you get from holding on to it.

Make a list of things for which you need to be forgiven

Share your story of hurt with appropriate listeners

Write a letter to the offender (DON'T SEND IT!)

Keep a journal of your feelings each day

Write out the incident

Explore why the other person may have hurt you

Do exercises in renewing trust or self-esteem building

Refrain from placing blame

Seek counsel as necessary

Recall that you are loved