“I’d held on to that hurt, coddled it, fed it, grew it.
Until it had all but consumed me.
But finally I wanted something even more than I wanted my pain. . .
– Louise Penny, A Trick of the Light –
In last week’s blog post, I said that the purpose of forgiving is not primarily to set my wrongdoer free. First and foremost, it’s to set me free. Does that sound egotistical? Selfish? It’s the same principle as the advice, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Forgiving my wrongdoer opens my fists so I can offer mercy. Forgiveness first frees me.
On the flip side, when I refuse to forgive, I forge a chain-strong link with the person who wronged me. The longer I hold onto that resentment, the stronger the link grows. I may think I can yank the chain and hurt that person, but the reality is that when I yank the chain, the only one who gets hurt is me. And because I’m hurting, I’m in danger of hurting other people in my life who are innocent of that wrongdoing. They become collateral damage. At that point, I have ceded control of my life to the original offense, giving it much more weight and power than it deserves.
Resentment and bitterness are some of the heaviest weights we can carry. When I despise someone, something, or some action, the spite is not in that person, thing, or action; the spite is in me and me alone. It will affect my whole life – my outlook, my attitude, my choices, my peace, my joy, everything. Father Thomas Hopko said, “So forgiveness is not just the healing of the other, it is the healing of yourself, too. If you don’t forgive, you allow yourself to be poisoned.”
We also stack the deck against ourselves when we don’t forgive, because at some point, we’ll want to be forgiven. As the saying goes, “He who cannot forgive another breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.”
Being forgiven has long been linked to our willingness to forgive others. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:9). This has less to do with God forgiving us than with the damage we do to ourselves when we don’t forgive. Our inability to be free from our wound is proportional to our inability to forgive. To the degree that we hold onto bitterness and resentment, we’ll hold onto the hurt. In other words, it’s impossible to be free of the wound, because we’re clinging to it. So it’s up to us. We’re released as much as we release others. That’s not a divine mandate; it’s simply the way life works.
If I hold onto resentment, it eventually governs me. It causes me to live with my back turned to the world and my heart turned away from even myself. Wishing someone else ill does nothing to make me feel whole. Forgiving is healthy.
So practically speaking, how do we let go of resentment and bitterness? How do we break the chain? That’s a subject for next week’s post. I hope you’ll join me as we continue to explore the subject of forgiveness.
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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy pexels.com.