There may be times when others inflict so much hurt on you or your family that you simply can't find it in your heart to forgive them. What if these people hurt you on purpose? Your soul fills with a sadness that turns to anger. You may nurse a grudge or even spend time plotting ways to get even. You see the act of forgiveness as somehow letting the other person off the hook.
Most religious faiths teach about the importance of forgiving others
The Islamic prophet Mohammed said Allah had commanded him to "forgive those who do wrong me." In the Jewish tradition, the faithful set aside the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to come face to face with their own misdeeds and the importance of forgiving others. The Dalai Lama stated, "All traditions carry the same message that is love, compassion, and forgiveness."
In the Christian tradition, Jesus upped the ante on forgiveness, when He told his followers to forgive others "seventy times seven," or so often that we actually lose track. He also described the need to "turn the other cheek," when we are wronged, hurt or offended.
Forgiveness does NOT mean we allow bad behavior
To be clear, while it's important to forgive your neighbor, that doesn't mean you are expected to tolerate unacceptable behavior. Nor should someone who is abused think forgiveness means remaining in an unsafe situation. Forgiveness never means we make ourselves prey to the evil acts of others.
It is essential to our own well being to forgive others
We forgive others so we can remove the bitterness in our own hearts. We forgive so we can replace anger with love and heal our souls. There are many variations of and attributions to the quotation, "Not forgiving others is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the other person to die." The point is we forgive others because of what it does for us, not what is does for them. Not forgiving others gives them the power to continue to wound us unnecessarily.
That still doesn't make forgiving others easy. It's sometimes so much more natural to just hold grudges. What if you finally reach a place where you want to forgive, but you just don't know how best to go about it?
5 steps to help you forgive others
In the September 27, 2010 issue of Psychology Today, child development expert Maureen D Healy offers 5 simple steps to actual forgiveness that comes from the heart:
1. Acknowledge what happened
2. Experience your feelings
3. Say you want to forgive
4. State you don't want to carry the anger anymore (or frustration, guilt or resentment)
5. Let it go. Give your anger to your Great Spirit (Buddha, Jesus, the Universe, etc.)
Forgiveness means we forgive both ourselves and others. When we do that, it makes it so much easier to make our way in the world and to help our children do the same. 'Tis the season for love and forgiveness. Heal your heart.