Forgiveness means to give up any claim to repayment or retribution.
Forgiveness can mean to relinquish a valid claim, thereby removing another’s responsibility to repay a debt.
Forgiveness can mean to pardon an offender, thereby releasing him from punishment or penalty.
Forgiveness can mean to refrain from enforcing an obligation of any kind.
Forgiveness as we are using it, in our discussion of core values, relates to the idea of pardon. It means letting go of a reaction of the mind that we feel when we think we have been wronged.
Sometimes when we feel we have been wronged, we fantasize about the moment of retribution. In our minds, we go over those fantastic scenes in fiction when someone, who has been wronged, finally gets even. Usually there is some sort of dramatic contest in which the injured party is victorious, after which he/she walks off amidst quiet gasps of admiration. Okay, maybe we all experience a bit of a thrill when a wrong is righted, and that feeling is not wrong – provided that when the “score” is settled, in favor of the one who has been injured, he does not do anything wrong himself. Otherwise it’s just more wrong… and you remember your mom’s timeless words of wisdom on this topic, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” As usual, your mom is right.
Vengeance sounds good, right? Sure. But here’s “the rub.” When we hold onto resentments, especially for a long time, it is usually because we have believed that one day we will experience the satisfaction of sufficient revenge to consider the score even. We hold on to the negative feelings because of the mistaken idea that the positive feelings that will result when we “get even” will somehow make our “investment” of time and energy in resentment or even hatred was worthwhile.
Unfortunately as long as we spend our time, intelligence, and energy thinking about something that has been done to us (intentionally or otherwise) and allowing ourselves to focus on our desire for repayment or retaliation, we are giving the other person power over our minds, souls, and spirits. In other words, you are giving the other person, the one who you feel wronged you in the first place, power over you.
“WHAT?! No way would I give that so-and-so power over me.” Well, think about it for a moment… Something happened – it’s over. You may have experienced a real injury – maybe even a significant one, and that is truly unfortunate. However, whatever happened has already happened. Your power over it lies in what you do next. You are the only one who can bring it from the past to the present, and you can only do that in your heart and mind. When you think about that thing, you bring it “back to life” over and over again. Each time you go over it in your mind, you feel wronged all over again. Each time you revisit this event, you lose again. Each time you rehash a past event, you give up thinking about something meaningful, beautiful, or empowering in favor of revisiting something that left you feeling like a victim the first time.
“Why would we ever do that? When you put it that way, it doesn’t make much sense.” True, it doesn’t. Moving on and giving up a perceived claim to the “right” to retribution allows me to free myself from ever having to think about or focus on that circumstance again. It puts the power back in my hands where it belongs.
“Okay, I get it. So what do we do when we have been the one to wrong another, intentionally or unintentionally and want to make amends? How do we go about freeing ourselves from the self-directed negative feelings of regret, guilt, or shame that we are harboring?”
The process of seeking forgiveness involves three distinct and important steps:
First, we must recognize that we did something wrong. We made a mistake or took a misstep that caused an injury to another. If we are still trying to justify our thoughts or actions, we are not ready to genuinely seek forgiveness.
The second step is to correct the mistake IF we can. In some cases we can make reciprocal amends – we can do the job we didn’t do; we can repair what we damaged; we can replace what we broke; we can return what we took that didn’t belong to us. Unfortunately, when we truly desire forgiveness, it is often for something that cannot be repaired or replaced because the damage does not involve a material object. We seek forgiveness for choices we have made that have led to a loss of trust – perhaps because of breaking a sacred promise, being carelessly disrespectful, choosing to be dishonest or dishonorable, taking another for granted, betraying a friend, or causing physical or emotional pain or injury to another. What can we do then? Sometimes we can’t do anything but put our whole heart and soul into step three.
The third and final step is to go forward and make different choices. It means we honor our promises. We discipline ourselves to be respectful. We strive to be honest and honorable in all our actions. We are careful with other people and their things. We recognize and express our gratitude. We become worthy of our friendships.
The three steps above can be simplified:
“What if I do all that and the other person still doesn’t forgive me? I feel frustrated and angry that I bothered. What do I get in return?” Fair question. What you get is the certainty that you have gained strength and wisdom through the process.
If that’s still not enough – then I suggest you forgive the other person and move on.