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To Build Up, Not Tear Down: The Value Of Balanced Forgiveness
by Cate Russell-Cole
10/19/2015 / Christian Living
Definition To Forgive: To free fully, relieve, release, dismiss, let die, pardon, divorce, depart, let go, loose, set at liberty.
I always thought that forgiveness was "forgive and forget." Act as if it had never happened, the connotation being that I shouldered the brunt of the pain and offence, sweetly overlooking it while the offender got off scot free. The emphasis was on me being the "good girl," no matter what. Forgiveness never seemed to consider the need for justice or healing, nor was I allowed to say, "hey that hurt and it's not fair!" That would be selfish. I always seemed to be the one to lose, and that never seemed fair to me. I've never seen forgiveness in my family. The attitude has always been pay-back and nothing was ever forgotten, ever. If there was an argument, everything you had ever done wrong was thrown back in your face, even if it had been previously resolved. How long ago the incident took place or how insignificant it was didn't count, it was a permanent mark against your name.
I have always struggled to understand how you let go of pain and injustice. That is what forgiveness, to me, really means. It isn't supposed to be a Christian sacrifice of feelings and rights just because we are supposed to be nice, or well behaved. Forgiveness is letting go of the hurts and wounds of the past, and not allowing yourself to build up hatred or bitterness. It builds bridges in relationships rather than burns them, and teaches us valuable lessons on inner healing. It is not supposed to have a destructive outcome in any way. Forgiveness is simple and powerful, and like many, I have oh, so many problems achieving it! Particularly when the wounds are fresh and they really sting.
I always find it nearly impossible to forgive when I am still caught up in a painful situation. It takes me awhile before I can come to a place within my heart where I can start to let go and forgive. That generally only happens when I have had some breathing space away from the situation, so I can be clear headed enough to be able to see both sides. Often I discover that the person who hurt me didn't do so intentionally, and more often than not, they are hurting in some way themselves. That doesn't make the action excusable, we are all accountable for what we have done to others, however it does make it easier to let go of.
Even if justice or an apology never comes my way, I now know the best thing I can do when hurt is to take charge on my own attitude, and try and let go. The offender is often not affected by our lack of forgiveness, unless we directly attack in return. We are the ones who lay awake at night fretting and hurting, so to let go is to release us, maybe even more than it is to release them.
Forgiving someone is hard work, and one of the greatest lessons I have learned is to be willing to be patient with myself. I now know I can't just magically forgive instantly. I expect too much of myself. But I know I have to forgive, and not let the poison build up in my system. Some people believe that arthritis can be caused by bitterness and unforgiveness. Stress and unhappiness does biologically release toxins into our system, which do damage to the body over a period of time. Compared to the pain of a long term illness, it certainly seems saner and simpler to bite the bullet and forgive!
I know I am not alone in these struggles. Everyone has their "battle wounds," many which have been there for years. The initial lacerations may have healed, but there is still a scar, and every time we look at that part of ourselves, we remember what happened. Some scars fade. Some scars over heal and form ugly ridges. Some still stay tender for years where the surrounding nerves have been damaged. So how do you forgive? How do you just let the past slip away as you walk free?
Like many attitudes, forgiveness is a choice you make independently of any other person or event. You have the choice to either stay angry and plot your revenge (and plotting a confrontation to force your voice to be heard can also be a form of revenge...) or you can make the choice to be grateful for your life and the good that comes out of your relationship with that person. Chalk it down to experience, allow it to make you a stronger, wiser, more compassionate person, and walk away. That also includes a willingness to be accountable for any destructive part you may have played.
What we do all need to understand though, is that forgiveness does NOT mean allowing destructive behaviour to be repeated by blindly turning the other cheek, or using a passive attitude to escape. If you are in a bad situation (such as domestic violence or sexual harassment), get out of it if you are able. If you are being taken advantage of in another way, stand up for yourself! There are times when it is appropriate to draw some boundaries, or even just let people know that what they thoughtlessly said, really hurt. Forgiveness should not allow cruelty and selfishness to have its own way. You can deal with problems with fairness, compassion and positivity. Just try not to let your feelings rule how you handle it.
Unforgiveness eats away at us mentally and emotionally. Over time unforgiven incidents mount up, causing a negative outlook on people and life, and crippling otherwise healthy relationships with bitterness. Letting go is tough, but it is worth it! I don't always have the inner resources to do it, and often I have to ask God for help. He is the safest, most comforting friend I can talk to, and He will help me.
This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Written in Australian English.
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