One of the hardest things in life is to forgive after being hurt. For many, life has been punctuated by another’s wrongdoing onto them. Because of this, forgiveness may seem like an impossibility or a free pass for a horrible act. And in our modern world filled with abuse and heightened negativity, forgiveness can be hard to defend... or does it?
How to define forgiveness?
Forgiveness is giving up vengeance. It is not trying to make the other person hurt as much as you were hurt by them. It is not doing payback. When I forgive somebody, I don't give them what I could give them, which is payback. I may pursue justice. I may pursue reconciliation or other things. But I am not going to pursue vengeance to try to make the other person as hurt and upset as I am.
Also, let's add that forgiving is not excusing.
Why forgiveness is important?
Number one: If you don't forgive, you don't really seek justice, you seek vengeance. And vengeance is always an overreach. You always end up going past what probably is just and it almost always backfires. Vengeance creates cycles of retaliation.
Number two: Forgiveness is hard, but it's harder not to forgive because then you pursue the other person with hate and anger. That can consume you, which any doctor will say is quite bad for your body and heart. It wears you down.
So it’s hard to forgive, but not forgiving may be harder.
How to start to forgive?
The first step in forgiveness is to acknowledge the wrong as a wrong. It’s not covering it up, it’s not excusing, it’s not saying, ‘Oh, don't worry about it’ and shrugging it off. Forgiveness includes naming the act as wrong. Otherwise, you're not forgiving—especially if you say ‘oh that didn't bother me’ but then years later you realize, it still does bother me.
Forgiveness isn’t sweeping things under the rug. It starts by acknowledging.
The second step is to identify with the perpetrator as a fellow flawed human being. You cannot forgive somebody if you are sure that you are infinitely better than them and that you would never do anything wrong. If you think you are that virtuous, then it'll be impossible to forgive. There must be some way of identifying with the perpetrator and understanding: This person is flawed. And while I don't think I would ever do this, I've also done wrong things.
There must be an admission that you have needed forgiveness yourself.
Then a third to grant forgiveness before you feel it. People often believe that they must feel forgiveness first, meaning their anger must first go away. I would argue that if you wait to feel it before you grant it, you're never going to grant it. You need to grant it before you feel it.
Now, what does granting mean? It means you’re not going to take revenge. Even if you pursue justice, you won’t do so in a vengeful way. I'm not going to throw this thing in the perpetrator's face to try to slander and bring them down. I’m not going to keep bringing it up to others. And I'm not going to keep replaying it to myself, in other words.
If I stick with it, for at least a couple of months, I may find that the anger starts to go away -this may be incredibly relevant any close relationship, by the way.
Forgiving is an act of freedom, of reclaiming my own identity, of moving on gracefully.
Who you need to forgive?
Who you need to ask forgiveness from?
What do you need to forgive to yourself?
This text is based on a conversation between Maria Schriver and Timothy Keller