The Power of Forgiveness
by Merryl Lentz
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Forgiveness. Boy, that's a tough one. How can we possibly forgive someone who has hurt us physically or mentally, betrayed us, lied to us, stolen from us, cheated on us, or disappointed us? It's definitely difficult, possibly will take a long time to accomplish, but is ultimately liberating, because when we don't forgive, we're really only hurting ourselves. Or as an anonymous quote relating to grudges says, "Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then expecting the rat to die."
Holding a grudge pointlessly wastes our energy. While we're spending time thinking about the other person, and spending time feeling hurt, anger, resentment or sadness over them, it's doubtful they're spending any time at all thinking about us. They have most likely moved on and are enjoying a conscience-free, happy existence, while we're still stuck in the past, sitting and stewing over them. We may even become stuck within our own resentment and bitterness for our entire lifetime.
However, forgiveness is not just about others -- it's about our own spiritual growth. Love and forgiveness are actually different branches of the same tree. If we decide to live out the love of God as one of the purposes of our life, then forgiving is a choice that cannot be sidestepped. The Bible even says, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37, NIV).
Some people may associate forgiveness with weakness. However, forgiveness is actually the complete opposite of weakness. It's an act that takes incredible maturity, intelligence and courage. It's a direct connection to your heart -- it is love itself. If forgiveness is not practiced, it can lead to an endless cycle of hurt and grudge-holding. Inability to forgive then creates a wound that is reopened every time an incident occurs that triggers something similar to the situation that created the wound in the first place.
Many people who are unwilling to forgive take their blame to their grave, even if it had severely crippled their lives. They never learned how to forgive -- or wouldn't attempt to forgive -- and were victimized by their own resentment, anger and blame towards others, and possibly even toward themselves.
Holding grudges or exercising forgiveness are both choices that are completely under our control. When you become aware of how an incident in your life sets off anger and resentment, you can choose to switch your behavior and thoughts to those of positivity and forgiveness. Instead of stubbornly clutching blame, you can begin the process of forgiving.
In order to experience the happiness and peace of mind that come with forgiving, you must look within yourself, rather than outside. True happiness can be yours when you examine and eliminate stories from your past that you are allowing to continue haunting you. When you permit yourself to live in the past, the present, and all the happiness that can be found in it, are negated. You prevent yourself from moving on.
So by forgiving, you also train yourself to live in the now, the present moment. And, to quote another anonymous saying, your own happiness and success are the best revenge. Get even with someone who attempted to destroy you by showing them that the obstacles they hurled into your path were not mighty enough to cause your destruction.
What's the second-best revenge? That your adversary was someone who helped you grow. When bad things happen, we can use these incidents as tests that will either defeat us or strengthen us. If you've been through something -- and the key word here is "through" -- it didn't destroy you. You've learned from the experience and have become a better, stronger person because of it.
When you're going through the forgiveness process, go easy on yourself. If you've dwelled on this problem for a long time, navigating in a new direction could take a long time, as well. While you're trying to release this old hurt, you'll make errors in your journey. Forgive yourself, and treat yourself with patience and kindness. Severe emotional upheaval has an intense effect upon the body, so allow yourself time to heal physically and emotionally. Be sure to eat well, get sufficient rest and seek solace from nature. Don't stuff your emotions down, but allow yourself to feel them so that you can then process them and move beyond them.
On the other hand, don't wallow in your emotions, either. How many times in one week -- or even one day -- have you told the story of how deeply you were hurt and how terribly you were deceived? By repeatedly doing this, you're keeping the wound fresh and painful, and remaining mentally and emotionally chained to your enemy. For your sake, as well as the sake of those who care about you, forgiveness is the most compassionate thing you can do -- and it also wards off negativity, which is no fun to personally experience, or to be subjecting others to constantly.
It will also help if you reframe your thinking. When your tormentor and their damaging actions pop into your mind, send them a blessing -- yes, a blessing. Hope for the best for them. This dissolves the hatred that is eating away at you. When we wish evil for another person, it seems to have a boomerang effect and come right back to us. This also applies to the good we wish for each other.
When you train yourself to reciprocate blessings for hatred, you'll know you're on the way to being healed. You may literally have to do this 100 times so that the blessing doesn't seem contrived or pointless, but keep persisting. In time, it will become habitual, and soon afterwards, it will dissolve the anger, fear and hurt that have kept you captive for so long. After all, a person who is capable of inflicting the extreme pain they inflicted upon you must be in dire need of blessings.
True, one of the most difficult tasks you'll undertake is responding to evil with benevolence, responding to hatred with love. Numerous studies have demonstrated that one of the essentials of longevity and wellbeing is to cultivate gratitude and to release past hurts. You must rise above all of the pain and forgive the unforgivable. Your tormentor may not deserve forgiveness for all of the pain and suffering inflicted upon you, but you deserve to free yourself from the horridness of these shackles.
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