Written by Charneise Alston, M.Ed
Forgiveness is an exchange of yesterday’s pain for tomorrow’s freedom. Unfortunately, that was easier written than practiced in my life. I used to struggle with forgiveness because I would focus on forgiveness as an act or deed. By doing so, I had the self-perceived power of choosing whom was worthy of forgiveness. It is easy to forgive minor offenses, but some wrongdoings have lasting effects with a pain that echos in our hearts for a lifetime. How do you forgive those grave transgressions that unexpectedly shake up your world and leave precious dreams shattered?
Whenever we refuse to forgive, we hinder our ability to fully heal from the emotional pain caused by others. Over the weekend, my toddler fell while outside and scraped her knees. As I attended to her small wound with the contents from my first aid kit, I explained why certain products help the healing process. I wanted my daughter to understand that healing is a process, not an event. The same can be said about forgiveness. Some offenses require a longer time to heal. But just as my daughter’s wound, I needed to clean it, apply a healing agent, and allow the wound time to heal.
In my home, I prefer to use aloe vera gel as a healing agent for cuts and bruises. The gel serves as a balm to help soothe the pain and protects with its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Well, in the same vein, forgiveness cleanses our emotional wounds and serves as a balm to help soothe the emotional pain which is critical for the healing process. There is a significant difference between a wound and a scar. When we choose to be unforgiving, we remain open wounds sensitive to touch.
Since we are all shaped by our experiences, forgiveness does not erase the countless misfortunes in our lives. But just as a scar, forgiveness allows you to tell a story without letting the pain of the injury affect your ability to thrive. There is life after the loss of a loved one. There is life after heartbreak. There is life after betrayal. Your resilience is contingent on your ability to forgive. Like the ocean, the depths of forgiveness are deeper than what your mind can fathom. There is no hurt that you cannot overcome.
Think about the last person who has caused you pain. Regardless of it being a first offense or repeated infractions, forgiveness is necessary for your own healing. Some people distortedly perceive forgiveness as a dim concept of tolerance. On the contrary, forgiveness is full awareness combined with compassion and mercy. Forgiveness is not to be confused with sweeping problems under the rug. Forgiveness is your personal choice of not allowing someone’s actions to have continued control over your mind and heart. Instead of constantly replaying the incident over and over in your mind, forgiveness liberates you from being imprisoned to the past. It’s time to move on and heal.
My biggest revelation was learning that forgiveness is not reconciliation. Once I fully comprehended the magnitude of this epiphany, I was empowered and set free. For instance, many of us think that we need closure to move on… nope. That’s the beauty of forgiveness, the offender does not have to participate in your forgiveness because it’s under your sole control. So, accept that you might not receive an apology or even see improved behavior before moving on with your life. Some tragedies go unanswered and we must find solace in our ability to move forward. Life might look completely different on the other side of forgiveness, but embrace the evolved version of yourself.
Another common misconception is thinking that forgiveness is forgetting the fault. It is absurd to believe that deep emotional pains can be erased from one’s consciousness. The ramifications of certain hurts remain in our hearts. However, your heart does not have to harden from the affliction. Turn your pain into purpose and create a legacy.
I know a woman who married the love of her life and was overjoyed when she discovered that she was pregnant. Tragically, there were some unforeseen complications and she bravely gave birth to a stillborn baby. The family was devastated and the grief was unbearable. Each morning she would have to walk past the fully decorated nursery, filled with gifts from her family and friends which she received at her baby shower. I would often share with her the importance of self-forgiveness. Sometimes we blame ourselves for unexplainable misfortunes and we prevent our own healing.
Well, as time passed, the woman forgave herself and decided to create a legacy in memory of her deceased baby. Instead of wallowing in the hurt of her child’s death, she became more alive by creating a foundation in her child’s name to help children in need. She took the focus off of herself and addressed a need in the community. She has helped countless children by providing them with school supplies and various resources. Today, the woman now has four healthy children and keeps the memory of her first-born alive in the hearts of many. Forgiveness offers you a new start, which may be the very thing you need in the long run.
Recently, an item was stolen from me by someone I know which caused some emotional pain. It is very insulting to experience betrayal from a familiar person. In reference to my hurt, my focus was not on the stolen product but the principle. While I have chosen to forgive the person, I will also be alert and set boundaries to avoid being a repeated victim. Unfortunately, forgiveness is not a magic wand and we sometimes have to remain in contact with the offender. Forgiveness frees you from being bound by past offenses and allows you to move forward in awareness. My compassion and caution are not mutually exclusive; do not allow people to continually hurt you because they have a warped perception of forgiveness. When you know better, by all means, do better.
I urge you to level-up and become more evolved, do not limit the expanse of your resilience. You are not defined by your pain, stop reliving the hurt by holding onto grudges. For your own sake, learn to forgive quickly. Life is too short for you to not have mercy on others when knowing that you are at fault in other people’s eyes. None of us are perfect and we all have, both directly and indirectly, done wrong to others. I know that I am not a malicious person and most of my offenses have been unintentional but that does not justify nor excuse my wrongs. The nature of forgiveness is mercy, and no one is ever truly deserving of this act. Therefore, I view forgiveness as an attitude rather than a deed.
While many of us would love for our student loans to be forgiven, on a more serious note, know that you cannot force forgiveness. If you have made a mistake, ask for forgiveness but also forgive yourself. Whether or not the person that you have offended chooses to forgive you, you can begin your own healing from guilt and shame. Free yourself and stop allowing people to dangle your past mistakes over your head.
In closing, being unforgiving is misleading because while it appears to be punitive towards the offender, it only harms the person who refuses to move on which makes you a victim twice. Some people hold onto grudges for so long, they have forgotten why they were even upset. Don’t let resentment make you bitter. Forgiveness makes us stronger, wiser, courageous, and free. If forgiveness is more of an attitude than an act, choose to forgive and allow your emotional wounds to heal with time. We all are capable of forgiveness because we are all in need of forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is love’s toughest work and love’s biggest risk!”
Dr. Lewis Smedes