Forgiveness is Like a Bag of Groceries
I have yet to find anything that lasts for years that does not have two elements in common. It has a solid foundation, and there is constant maintenance on that foundation. It can be a building, a relationship, a business, a career, or a life.
In order for success to be attained, there must be a solid, sustained foundation. Let a
weakness appear in that foundation that has not been repaired, it affects not only the foundation itself but anything that is dependent on the foundation's soundness. For instance, a beautiful, sturdy, tight house can be erected, and termites invade the foundation. Left unattended, the unseen destructive force affects the integrity of the house as a whole.
The same thing can happen to a person. Let us use, for example, someone who is raised by the best parents. These parents provided for his or her needs and furnished an all-encompassing love. She or he had constant and strong principles imparted, a solid belief system instilled and the best education possible supplied. This created the most stable foundation on which to build a life. Yet, if that person does not uphold the foundation, it can weaken and detrimentally influence what has taken years to build. The foundation created must be periodically repaired and improved.
Unresolved guilt or anger is an example of forces that can tear down a personal foundation. At first, it does not seem to be hurting a thing, but over a span of time, weaknesses start to appear. The person was not vigilant, and weaknesses developed in his or her infrastructure. The heart or core of the person was allowed to erode. This unresolved anger or guilt wearing away the base of the person is usually fed by the lack of forgiveness. If suggested to the person that one of their issues is probably the lack of forgiveness, it is difficult for the person to realize this is where the rebuilding or restoration needs to start.
Have you walked home from the store carrying a bag of groceries? At the beginning of the trek, you think to yourself, "it's no biggie. I got this." After blocks of walking, the bag starts getting heavier. One thing has not been added, but the bag feels heavier. You become more tired. The aching in your arms increase, and you start switching the bag from arm to arm. You feel that the bag's weight has more than doubled and is becoming a problem. Home is the destination that you must make. Carrying the bag of items is now a burden. By the time you make it home, you are ready to testify that the bag of items feels like a two-ton rock. Carrying this weight has brought unwelcoming changes such as slowing down your pace, changing your focus, and causing mental anguish and physical pain. All the while, the bag has not changed nor anything in the bag has changed. The bag has no thought to the pain you are going through.
This analogy is what happens when you carry prolonged lack of forgiveness. It becomes heavier the longer it is carried. The emotional, mental and physical pain and damage increases, and it causes negative imprints in our cognition and beliefs. The one against whom you have not forgiven and against whom you are carrying the grudge is like the bag. On the whole, it is impervious to your pain. The person against whom you are carrying the grudge and refusing to forgive is advancing with their life oblivious that you are suffering hurt and anger. You are trapped in your own hurt.
In the meantime, the anger carried is having a negative impact on our contentment, our focus, our behavior, and our spiritual life. Even though we go on with our everyday life, in our foundation or infrastructure silently lies a corrosive choice that has an adverse consequence.
It can be compared to a piece of sloping property when every time it rains, the water is running over the land eroding the integrity of the topsoil. Over time, a gully is formed. It may not be noticeable at first, but it gets deeper and deeper and damages the land. The same thing happens to people. Over time, the anger or the guilt erodes the internal foundation. It influences the outlook of the person as a consequence of refusing to let it go.
Up to now, I have alluded to not forgiving others. How about ourselves? What about the lack of forgiveness that we carry around within ourselves for something we regret? This is something that stays with us twenty-four hours a day. The regret is always there because we have chosen not to release the anger, resentment, or guilt toward ourselves. Our decision-making process is affected; our responses to others are colored with distrust or disappointment, and we view ourselves negatively.
Not forgiving ourselves affects our relationships with others. They are damaged or hindered because we see ourselves in a negative light. We get angry and do not understand why we are angry. We become sad and depressed and do not know why. Our inability to handle stress increases, and we view ourselves as inadequate, which can affect working behaviors and decision-making, and before we know it, we can start to experience anxiety attacks.
Questions are asked. "What is forgiveness? “How do you forgive?” Surely, what is wrong with the person cannot be something as simple as forgiveness? The problem lies in not understanding that forgiving is not simple.
What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is a conscious choice. This is where the five facets of life come into play. Life always holds for us challenges and changes. Next, comes our choice toward these challenges and changes. What are we going to do about it? Whatever our choice is, we are guaranteed to receive the consequences of our choice whether now or later. How our choices influence others can be an example of the final facet, and that is our contribution.
Contribution can also be attributed to ourselves or our quality of life as well as what we bring to the table of another person's life be it negative or positive. We must remember we are always teaching and influencing each other. We do not have to go to college and get a degree to teach or influence others. That is part of life. We are always passing something on to others. When we come to end of our lives, in what light will we be remembered.
The definition of forgiveness is making a conscious, intentional choice to free ourselves. This can be of bitterness, hatred or vengeance toward another person or group of persons or within ourselves.
Of course, the opposite is true. If we choose not to forgive, then we choose to keep those qualities within ourselves. We have to come to the point of saying, "I'm tired. I want a change." Until that happens, we will continue to carry the burden and our foundation will continue to erode. We have to make an intentional choice to forgive and to set ourselves free for it to be accomplished.
Another thing to think about is how the instigating event is perceived by the parties involved. The other party may not see they have done anything to merit accusation or see a need for forgiveness. This is where true communication comes into play and using assertive communication is a choice.
When we refuse to forgive, we are not making allowances for mistakes, for carelessness, or even weaknesses. We are making the choice to not show kindness, understanding, and tolerance. We are choosing to be immovable and harsh. The one thing we must contemplate while we are sloshing around in the sludge of not forgiving is we are choosing to impede our own life's progress. We are choosing to hurt ourselves. We lose our internal peace. Now, I ask you. Is our pride worth it?
Another important issue to grasp when trying to explain the concept of forgiveness is what forgiveness is not. We are not forgetting or excluding the seriousness of an offense. Forgiving is releasing and freeing ourselves of pent-up anger or guilt and the negative, intense feelings we have housed within ourselves that eats away at us.
Forgiving gives us back control and empowers us to heal and causes a change in focus. It frees us from the cage in which we think we have imprisoned our offender.
What if the person who needs forgiving is yourself? We have committed an act that stays with us constantly. When a distraction is not present, relaxing for a brief moment will bring it back to our minds. Whether we knew the incident was wrong or right at the time is irrelevant. A deep guilt makes us now regret our past action that we feel we cannot release, and we may feel compelled to metaphorically flog ourselves. Questions will plague us such as "how could I do something like that?" “Why didn't I see that at the time instead of now?" We have to realize whatever happened occurred, and we are powerless to change it.
The second question is "How do I forgive myself?"
You forgive yourself the same way you forgive someone else. The first thing is making the choice to do so. You have to realize that you need forgiveness as much as anyone else and make a definitive decision that today is the day to forgive. Say to yourself "I'm tired. Enough is enough." Do not whitewash what happened, and do not diminish the incident by giving reasons or excuses. Be totally honest. Say the words "I'm through. I can't change what happen no matter how I want to. I forgive myself." Make something positive out of what you do not have the power to change.
The next step is to change your self-perception. Realize and accept that you are a human being capable of mistakes and possessing wrong concepts and start the steps toward restoring self-respect and self-love. I am not saying become narcissistic but realize that if you do not love and feel good about yourself, you will not have what it takes to succeed in your efforts, and others in your life can not be benefited as well.
Negative feelings such as self-hate and self-disappointment influence whether you feel you deserve forgiveness and influence whether you feel worthy to receive forgiveness. Accept that you have value and purpose and let yourself off the hook.
Be aware living with our wrong-doing embeds internal negative feelings within us that are triggered by comments, a smell or sound, an action or a simple thought. Once those negative reactions such as guilt, shame, sorrow, or regret are recognized, remind yourself this was the past. Replace those feelings by repeating to yourself the positive affirmations you have chosen to use to build up and change your thoughts.
A positive affirmation is a statement like "I am strong". Other examples of positive affirmations are "I accept myself" or "I can accept I deserve success." Renew your mind by meditating on what works for you to restore positive self-perception and self-respect. It will take time to carve new neural pathways and to root new habits. You cannot expect the habit of criticizing and condemning you have practiced for twenty years to change in twenty-four hours. You have to build new habits and new ways of thinking and responding, and that will take time.
The third step is to accept yourself. It will not be the first time you will make a mistake. You will continue to make mistakes and missteps, but do not let that define who you are. See these mistakes as learning circumstances or guideposts showing you what to do and continue seeing yourself as empowered.
Do I mean what you have done wrong and the residue of your actions will go away? No, it won’t. The event will fade, and you and those affected, if they are willing, will heal and become stronger. This will make you all better, wiser persons. Our greatest resource is our minds. What we believe will be what we will do.
Another question is "How do I know I have truly forgiven and that it’s not words?
Your actions and reactions need to be observed. Pay attention to your focus and your thoughts. If you find yourself in the same event or find yourself around the same person who has caused you the pain, and you still have the same strong emotions as before, it a good bet you have not attained forgiveness.
If you can’t stop thinking about it, or everything reminds you of the incident, you may need to tap into whatever resources you have established for yourself to renew your mind or ease the stress caused by the lack of forgiveness. A feeling of injustice comes over you that the offending person is successful or even allowed to live, one could say there needs to be more work.
Saying the words “I forgive you” is a good start, but that’s not all to complete forgiveness. Your reactions will tell you how far you have come. At no time is forgiving ever easy. To forgive, you must take on an active part in the act. You need to realize the necessity of the act, make it a part of your being to forgive yourself and others, and keep working on it until the hurt and anger or guilt has dissipated. Inner peace is achieved.
Remember that no one is beyond mistakes or missteps including yourself. How do you want to be treated by others when you make a mistake? Do you want to be judged so harshly?
Another question could be "Do I act as if nothing happened and go back to the way it used to be? Doesn’t forgive mean forgetting?"
The terms forgiving and forgetting are not necessarily synonymous. I had a pastor who used to say that he can forgive you for stealing from him, but he’s not about to allow you to hold his wallet. You stepped into that boat of experience that caused the problem to begin with and ended up at the bottom of the lake. Are you going to step off into that boat without testing if the hole has been fixed? Testing out any changes to a person or situation is wisdom. Since we are powerless to change the event or the person or persons that caused our hard feelings, then it would seem that we need to realize the power is ours to give.
Forgiveness is a concept that is under continuous study and practice. For the spiritual well-being of an individual, there are several Biblical scriptures concerning relationships and forgiveness. An example is found in Matthew 5: 23-24, 6:14-15, 18: 22-35. Without forgiveness there is not a relationship. Notice that forgiveness is so important it can be found three times in one book.
There are numerous researches being done concerning the effects of forgiveness on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of people. The following are some internet addresses if you want to look into this concept further:
Forgiveness is power. It does not depend on whether the other person receives our gift for us to forgive. The power lies within in us in understanding forgiveness. Forgiving is about learning, about healing, about releasing negativity from within us, and about our legacy. Forgiveness is about maintaining a strong foundation, so we can last a long time and have the good quality of life we deserve.