I'll answer that question by asking two more; the two big questions I ask myself every day:
Do I want to be well?
How can I cultivate more peace in my life?
If I truly want to be well, it requires action on my part. Which means I really have to be honest with my answer to this question. Because if I truly want to be well, it means evaluating my thought life, my spiritual and human relationships, and my physical health, and adjusting the sails accordingly.
Which always leads me to my next big question:
How can I cultivate more peace in my life? When I look at my thoughts, my relationships, and my health, it’s almost a guarantee that cultivating peace means letting go. And the first step for me is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. The energy we spend holding onto resentment, frustration, and the score card is energy better spent literally anywhere else. I can’t even get to Gratitude until I pay a visit to Forgiveness.
Forgiveness gets a bum rap sometimes because our world likes justice instead. Accountability. No excuses.
But forgiveness is a critical part of justice. If you’ve ever watched emotional courtroom victim testimonies, even in the most heinous crimes, you will find seemingly-supernatural examples of victims forgiving their aggressor. Not for the aggressor’s benefit… but for the sake of the victims’ own peace. The only way to heal and move forward is to practice forgiveness within yourself.
Before we dig into what forgiveness IS, let’s go ahead and call out what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is NOT:
- Extending trusting immediately (again or ever)
- Excusing the violation
- Saying “it’s okay” (because it wasn’t)
- Forgetting what happened
- A one-time solution
- A magical happy-face pain eraser
Forgiveness isn’t easy. It’s one of the hardest skills we can put into practice. But the concept is simple.
9 things forgiveness IS:
1. It releases the other person from the debt you feel/think they owe
This is the basis of forgiveness. The deeper the wound, the harder it is to pardon the one who wounded you. It's a choice. Where we get bogged down in forgiveness is when we try to pack all these other peripherally-related things into the same backpack: trust, love, and hope. Those may come again in time. But the whole entire point of forgiveness is to help you move forward from the pain you're stuck in. Nothing good happens until you decide anger is too heavy a burden to bear. And honestly, releasing the other person from the debt you feel they owe is just good expectations-management - they're probably never going to "repay" you as fully as you feel you deserve anyway.)
2. Forgiveness is releasing any and all expectations that the other person will change.
We know the only person we can change is ourselves. So let’s agree to stop setting ourselves up for disappointment by expecting our “punishment” to affect any change. Drop the pressure. The other person might surprise you. (Also, they might not, and then you’ll know for sure.)
Related: Releasing Expectations
3. It does not mean you can or should trust the person again.
If someone hits me with a 2x4, I can choose to forgive them. But you bet I’ll never stand near them in a lumberyard. (Thank you to our first marriage counselor for this illustration I still hold onto.). Trust is lost in an instant and earned back one tiny trustworthy behavior at a time. Be patient. But set good boundaries in the meantime.
Tough truth I had to learn: so many of us get hung up on forgiveness because “I can’t trust him/her anymore.” That’s not forgiveness. That’s trust. And they are two separate things. You can have forgiveness without trust. But you can’t ever (ever, ever) rebuild trust without forgiveness. Try forgiveness first. Trust may come in time.
4. It sets aside your anger and pain in exchange for pursuing your own personal peace.
Seems impossible sometimes, but swapping out poison for peace within is the best trade ever.
I'll note here that when forgiveness feels MOST impossible, faith takes over. God, who has forgiven the unforgivable in me, can help me forgive what feels unforgivable in others. There's not much we can do all by ourselves. Especially forgiving someone who deeply wounded you. This supernatural grace is available from the One who created you. Just ask. Be willing to try.
Related: Choose love
5. It's choosing never to use a person's offense as a weapon ever again.
You can’t simultaneously forgive someone and continue to blame them for what they did. Healing won’t happen if you keep bringing up the offense... the shame and resentment they’ll feel, and the anger reward you’ll feel will both stand in the way of moving forward.
Related: The Blame Game
6. It's essential in any relationship you want to flourish.
It wasn’t until I made the mental switch from “fighting against him” to “fighting with him” that our runaway train wreck finally found some light at the end of the tunnel. It took both of us grasping that concept to move forward. Fighting (and the resulting wounds that follow) is normal. If you’re not arguing, even occasionally, someone’s not being honest. The real question is: are you fighting against each other, or with and FOR each other?
What’s the ultimate goal at the end of the fight: to be right, or to be closer as a couple?
7. You most likely have to offer it first before it's extended to you too.
I think this is the biggest reason it feels so hard to forgive people. Someone has to go first.
8. It brings healing but that healing is yours alone to choose.
There's a doorway to healing, wide open in front of you. No one can force you to walk through that door to forgive them, but you'll stand in your own way of peace and healing every moment you choose not to. It's an inside job: a daily choice, over and over again within yourself.
9. It can set you free.
Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. The energy we spend holding onto unforgiveness in the form of anger, resentment, frustration, and the score card is energy better spent literally anywhere else. It will stand in the way of anything good you desire for your life. We talk all the time about reflecting in gratitude daily. But I can’t even get to Gratitude until I pay a visit to Forgiveness.
Today's personal forgiveness list:
- I forgive myself for losing my patience with my daughter yesterday over a mundane household chore
- I forgive my toddler for refusing to go to sleep last night
- I forgive God for allowing suffering in the world (just a few light items on my mind last night!!!)
- I forgive my knees for aching and my neck for pinching when I woke up
- Some personal marriage and family stuff
Some of these pains sound fluffy when I look at them, but letting go of even these “simple” things frees my spirit up for the people and tasks which deserve my presence today.
So how do you know when you’ve truly forgiven?
When that person can pass through your mind peacefully and without stirring up trouble. It might twinge you, because forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, but you can bless and release them before they drill holes in your proverbial boat.
Which is why forgiveness is 100% a gift to yourself. It takes daily, intentional work.
So... what’s on your forgiveness list? What’s the most powerful form of forgiveness you’ve ever received? And what aspects of forgiveness do you struggle with? Drop a comment or send a message. And be sure to check out our social channels for all these graphics and bite-sized forgiveness thoughts over the past week or so. Facebook: Heartfully Present, and Instagram @heartfullypresent
Last but certainly not least, I humbly invite you to share this post with someone you know who is struggling with forgiveness, either on the giving or receiving end. None of this is easy. But we're stronger, smarter, better, and more grace-filled when we try it together.