Be Thankful That You Can Forgive

As the United States celebrates Thanksgiving today, I began to wonder why we find it easy to celebrate thanks-giving but when it comes to for-giving it’s often terribly difficult?  We can sit down and write a 100 things in our lives we are thankful for but ask us to write a letter of forgiveness to someone we’ve gone head to head in a battle of will with, to someone who we feel has slighted us, to someone who we feel has hurt us in some fashion us with words or actions, we simply can’t.

We can easily say ‘thank-you’ but not ‘I forgive you’. Why is that? How do we make ‘I forgive you’ roll off our tongue as easily as thank you? I may not have the answer but I will take a stab at it and encourage you to post a comment with your thoughts. Perhaps together we can determine the why, and come up with an easy process to master the art of forgiveness so we may be thankful for our ability to forgive and maybe even forget. (forgetting will have to be a whole other blog post).

We hold onto anger, indignation and resentment which are the emotions that make forgiveness so hard, like we hold on for dear life on a rollercoaster, or on a rope bridge over a deep canyon. If we let go then we may catapult into an abyss. If we let go and forgive then do we feel we are giving up, swallowing our pride, bruising our ego, letting the other person win and take our power away. Is it as simple as that? Someone hurts our feelings and we  hold a grudge for a lifetime? I for one want to be able to forgive quickly and let go of the negativity that seeks safe harbor in my heart.

We’ve all seen those news reports where the family of a murder victim forgives the killer. How do those people find it in their hearts to forgive such a heinous crime yet we can’t forgive the person who offended us in some way – the guy that insulted us last week or the boss who fired us, or the friend who viciously gossiped about us, or the people who took something from us that wasn’t theirs to take? There are tons of things people do to each other that result in situations where bitterness and grudges take root. What do these emotions really  do for you? Does the other person feel your eyes burning in the back of their head everyday of their life? Do they have sleepless nights because your feelings have been hurt? I doubt it. Most probably don’t care or even know they caused you any grief. You’ve caused yourself grief, sleepless nights and churning stomachs by holding onto the negative emotions.

So how do you learn to forgive?

  • First I say we must realize we do harbor the feelings of revenge, resentment and anger. Catch those thoughts when you have them. You will have to practice this. The thoughts usually come to you when you are in your quiet moments or when you are talking to a trusted friend. Make a promise to yourself that you will monitor your thoughts and ask your friends to stop you when you start your rant.  Stop playing the scenarios of how you can get back at them in your mind. You are the only player in these and there is no audience. Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for many years,  said that “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.”
  • Second, know that it does not mean the act that caused you to feel hurt will be erased from existence and your feelings don’t matter. They certainly do. Here’s where it gets interesting. You forgive the person not the act. A wrong is a wrong. People can’t rewind and stop doing what it is they did but you can understand that they did what they did for any number of reasons. Perhaps the killer was hopped up on drugs or came from a domestic abuse situation. Maybe your friend feels slighted that you didn’t return their call immediately or your boss had a fight with his wife that morning.
  • Be sure that when you do not forgive you are really just giving your power to the person who hurt you. I don’t know about you but I prefer to be the driver of my life and keep my power. I’ve given it away before and it definitely didn’t help me one iota.  This quote by author Lewis B. Smedes, “If we say that monsters (people who do terrible evil) are beyond forgiving, we give them a power they should never have… they are given the power to keep their evil alive in the hearts of those who suffered most. We give them power to condemn their victims to live forever with the hurting memory of their painful pasts. We give the monsters the last word.”
  • Focus on the things you are grateful for. Your boss is a jerk and has treated you like you are a complete idiot but focus on the fact that he or she makes sure you get a Christmas bonus or paid for your extra skill training, or bought you a good desk chair because you have a bad back or told you one day you were brilliant when you landed a big contract for the company.

Instead of being righteous, anguished, depressed or angry try  responding with love. You can love the person and still not like or appreciate the behavior. Love trumps hatred. It’s like a frown – it takes more muscles to hold a frown than to smile from ear to ear. Ann Landers, the popular advice columnist used to say,  ” hate is like acid. It destroys the vessel in which it is stored.” Greek playwright, Sophocles suggests,One word frees us of all the weight and pain in life. That word is love.” Hatred is power you give to another person, love is power you share with them.


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