7 Practical Suggestions for Forgiving

“[F]orgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside [our] own skins.”

Frederick Buechner

So practically speaking, how do we let go of resentment and bitterness? How do we forgive? Maybe part of the answer is within the word itself. Switch the syllables for and give, and you get give for. Resentment clenches its fists around the betrayal and hurt. Forgiving means opening our fists to give our offense up for our health and for the welfare of others.

For specifics, I can tell you only what has helped me.

1) Admit that what was done was not okay. For those of us who are quick to say, “That’s okay; it doesn’t matter” when we’re mistreated, the first step is to learn to respect ourselves enough to acknowledge that we were hurt. To admit that it matters. Because it does. Stuffing it away and denying it is not the same as forgiving. If you’re the type of person who can let offenses roll off “like water off a duck’s back” as they say, then fine. You can honestly say, “That’s okay; it doesn’t matter.” But most of us can’t honestly say that.

2) Take steps in a positive direction with supportive people. That means we tell someone who can help us carry our pain and gain perspective.

3) Soften our view toward the offender. Realize that he or she never gets away free, even though it may appear that way. Wrongdoing has a way of eating away at the offender’s insides and taking him or her to unpleasant places. It helps me to think, “The harm you are doing (or have done) to me is nothing compared with the harm you are doing (or have done) to yourself.”

4) Refuse to let the offense define us. Fact of life: Sometimes we get mistreated. The question is whether we’ll victimize ourselves and dig our claws into resentment or let go and move on unencumbered. I can decide not to be a victim, because the truth is that my past does not have to control my future.

5) Try to see the big perspective. I try to remember to ask myself whether this issue is important enough to jeopardize my health and happiness. Will the wrong done to me even matter ten years from now – or twenty? Usually it won’t. Novelist Nora Roberts wrote a bit of insightful dialogue that applies here:

“Did you ever stop hating [your abusive father]?”

“No, but I stopped letting it be important, and maybe that’s healthier. Someone hurts you in a permanent way, you don’t forget it. But the best revenge is seeing that it doesn’t matter.”

I would add one word to that last sentence: anymore. It doesn’t matter anymore. Because it did matter. A lot. And it’s not as if we don’t care. We do. But as I said before, for some of us, admitting that it mattered is the first step toward the healthy place of ceasing to let it be important.

6) Go high. I’m not naive enough to think that after I’ve been wronged, life will always go back to the old normal. Sometimes there’s a new normal. When someone wrongs us, they leave us at a fork in the road. We get to choose from one of two directions: worse or better. Low or high. As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” We can’t control every outcome, but we can control our outlook. We can head toward the better. No, make that the best. We can go high.

7) Close the door. Offenses have a way of returning to my mind uninvited. I may think I’ve closed the door on them, but then they sneak back in. When they do, I know not to take the bait and swallow them, because they have a way of hooking into me. But in order not to take the bait, I have to look them in the eye and not ignore them. I’ve learned to try to acknowledge the memory (“ah, you again; yes, I see you”) and send it on its way (“this case is closed”). It has been said that “[F]orgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past.” I can acknowledge that and close the door on the past as often as I need to. If I have to close that door every day, I will.

Next week: a tricky twist to forgiveness.

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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

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