Among the many idioms and phrases hand written in sparkly gel-ink on the inside sleeve of my Bible is something I heard in a Relief Society meeting years back:
“Forgiveness doesn’t make them right, it sets you free.”
Today’s #LightTheWorld message touches on the admonition to forgive and love those who might offend or hurt or deplete us, as found in Matthew 5:44:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”
While I don’t believe anyone truly wants to bear the burden of offense or hurt, sometimes the need to hold someone accountable can cloud our judgment of what is truly best for our emotional health. I think back to all of the times I thought I was helping my mom out by informing (not tattling to) her about the goings on of questionable talk; gross odors; and even worse, the taking of personal belongings by my 10 siblings. If I’m being totally honest, there was an inkling of satisfaction with every reveal.
“Mom! Chuck stuck his tongue out at me!”
“MOM! Daniel is pretending to shoot ducks in the house!”
“MOM! Richelle stole my shirt!”
Don’t worry; I had my share of troubles, too. Keeping up as Mamma’s PI was incredibly exhausting. It’s a wonder I had any time to be a kid myself.
Luckily, I’ve come a long way from needing the validation of holding others responsible for their negative actions, especially when they impact me. Or have I? Wasn’t it just last week when I complained to a friend about the way someone spoke to me at the grocery store? Or when I pointed out to my husband that he forgot to do better at the thing at which he promised to do better? Or when I smugly—though hidden through email—corrected a colleague for forgetting something that I surely would never have overlooked?
Hmm. I think maybe I’m not as perfect at being forgiving and loving and gracious as perhaps I like to very much consider myself to be. Come along with me while I go back to my tried and true Forgiveness Refresher® (patent pending), where I look at three approaches I can take at avoiding offense, achieving forgiveness, and becoming an all-around more kind and loving human being.
So often we find our hearts bruised unintentionally by someone in our life, be it a family member, church leader or colleague. Not wanting to make a big deal of it, we keep the hurt inside and try to have a conversation with ourselves about motive. Stop right there! You can’t have a conversation with yourself about what you think another person probably thought when they said or did the thing that ended up offending you! Take it from someone who could write a 10-part novel on the art of monologue-ing dialogue. Do you know what is so much easier, saves a lot of time, and is a great way to respect others? Try sharing directly with someone how you feel. It creates an opportunity for them to listen, explain, and possibly apologize. If you’re an introvert, like me, this can take some real practice. Here are a few conversation starters that may or may not be pulled from my life experience:
“You assigned me that task last week, but now you’re giving it to Susan. Was there something I did that made you lose trust in my ability?”
“It made me feel a little sheepish to open up to you and have you not appear invested in what I was saying.”
“I know I said you could have some of the leftover Godiva chocolate cheesecake in the fridge. I definitely meant ‘some,’ not ‘all.’”
So, unless you’re practicing for a big interview; or you are working up the nerve to ask that special someone to the movies, no more one-sided discussions on loop in your head. Invite the person who has offended you into the conversation. You just might be surprised at how quickly you can resolve the problem.
Talk to Someone
Let’s get real for a minute. Not every type of offense is unintentional. And not every kind of offense is forgivable on your own. If confronting someone who has hurt you is not possible, reasonable or safe, the freedom of forgiveness may not be within your immediate reach. That is ok. It’s also possible that forgiveness will come in stages, just like the grief that accompanies some of the hardest hurts in our lives.
Just recently I confided in my bishop that I was struggling with the next step of forgiveness toward someone who hurt me several years ago. Though I had come to a great place in many ways with that experience, the bitterness lives on and impacts me in ways that are not always evident, but definitely remain. Looking to trusted leaders, professional counselors, or sincere friends might be a necessary step toward ushering the light of compassion, forgiveness, and strength back into our souls after the distress of wrongdoing. And remember, just because we are working toward forgiving someone does not mean we forget the lessons of the experience, or that they have a free pass back into our world if the healthy thing is to say goodbye.
Jesus Christ sacrificed everything so that we could have an open connection to the Divine for eternity. This gift encompasses every aspect of our lives, and most certainly can help us find the strength to forgive. There are some sins committed against us that are beyond our human capacity to understand and navigate. I have found when that is the case for me, telling the Lord I can’t is sometimes all I can do. I have put more than one hurt at His feet, expressing that relinquishing the problem was my very best effort. Maybe one day I will find myself stronger and more experienced in a way that I can face and navigate those things, but for now, I feel at peace where the Lord has taken and carried my burden.
Forgiveness really can set us free. It can open our hearts to healing, make room to love others and strengthen character. That love can and will be a gift to the people we interact with in our lives every day, and be the guiding influence that attracts and creates the good in our world.
As Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Let’s all be a little stronger today as we Light The World.