Over 20 years ago, my mother disowned me for a period of 10 years of my life. It wasn’t something I could ever imagine doing to one of my children, but it happened. It was one of the most painful times of my life. I was angry at her. I got married and gave birth to my first child and she wasn’t there. I missed her and longed for a mother-daughter relationship. I cried a lot. Today my mother and I have a beautiful relationship and I am so grateful for our reconciliation. As a matter of fact, her birthday card to me this year said, “You are the best daughter”. Did this relationship we have today happen overnight? The answer is no. At the core of our relationship today is forgiveness.
What is forgiveness?
“Forgiveness is something virtually all Americans aspire to – 94% surveyed in a nationwide Gallup poll said it was important to forgive-in the same survey; only 48% said they usually tried to forgive others.”
I don’t think a single person can escape life without experiencing hurt by another person. Maybe the hurt is angry words spoken during an argument or a friend who surprises you with betrayal. Perhaps the pain comes from emotional neglect, infidelity, divorce or even sexual and physical abuse. Sometimes the hurt is a one time event. Other times the pain continues for a long time.
Forgiveness is a necessary step to healing from pain. It is a choice to extend mercy to the person who hurt you. Sometimes forgiveness allows you to move forward with the other person and experience a new relationship. Other times, reconciliation is not possible. In this case, forgiveness is more for you and your own personal growth.
First and foremost, God commands us to forgive. In Mark 11:25-26, it says “And when you stand in praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.”
You might be saying, “But you don’t understand what’s been done to me.” And you’re right; I don’t know all the hurts you’ve endured. However, I know from experience that it pays to forgive. Forgiveness is a sign of strength – not weakness. It is the strong who can put aside the past and let go of anger and resentment. My mom comes from a large family, with seven brothers and sisters. There has been a lot of sibling rivalry, and I’m always amazed at the amount of resentment that still remains in the family today.
Anger and resentment drains your energy, and keeps you imprisoned by your past. By choosing to let go of your hurt and anger, you give yourself the freedom to fully experience joy in life. Anger builds inside us, so by letting go, you improve your ability to control your anger. We’ve all seen the person who blows up at the smallest incident. It is the accumulation of built up anger that is unreleased that causes this explosion. So many diseases, like heart disease and cancer, can be triggered by unresolved resentment. By choosing to forgive, you can dramatically improve your emotional and physical health.
Without forgiveness, you cannot move forward in your own personal and relational growth.
What forgiveness is not?
Forgiveness does not mean you allow people to treat you badly. It does not mean you ignore the wrongdoings. It means you accept that the person has made a mistake, and you are choosing to grant them mercy. When you forgive someone, you won’t necessarily forget the hurt. I will always remember the pain I felt when my mom disowned me, but I do not dwell on it, and I do not let it interfere with the quality of our relationship today. I have allowed myself to heal and move on. Forgiveness does not mean you are condoning or excusing the person’s behavior. And it doesn’t mean you have to trust that person again. Some acts, like physical and sexual abuse, require that you limit your trust or at least test the trust with the person who hurt you. Remember, forgiveness is more for you than the other person.
The process of forgiving
So you’ve thought about it and you’re ready to forgive. You’re tired of holding on to old pain and you’ve decided it’s time to let go and move on. What do you do? First, you must face and release the anger that you feel. On the surface of the hurt is anger and you need to break away that layer first. Underneath the anger is the pain and hurt that you must grieve. There are many ways to release anger and hurt. You can talk about it with trusted people. You can spend time journaling. You can pray about it and ask God to take away that pain and resentment. You can express your feelings to the person who hurt you, provided that it’s possible to have a healthy conversation where both you and the other person speak and listen in respectful ways.
One of the best and most cleansing ways to release your negative feelings is to write a letter to your perpetrator. In this letter, you pour out every emotion you feel. You tell them everything that hurt you and everything they did to make you angry. Do not hold anything back. Allow yourself to really feel the anger and cry the tears by reading it out loud to yourself. When you are done, burn or bury the letter as a symbol that you are ready to move on. DO NOT give the letter to the person. This letter is for you and you only.
After processing all your emotions, you are ready to make the choice to forgive. It is a choice that requires compassion, understanding and an open and loving heart. When my mother and I first reconciled, we talked about our feelings. Sometimes we even fought because the pain was still fresh. But we listened to one another and we tried to get inside each other’s shoes. It wasn’t easy, but today, even though I don’t agree with some of my mother’s beliefs, I have compassion and understanding for who she is and why she made the choice she did. I love her regardless of our differences.
Each of us makes mistakes in life. At one time or another (probably more than one time), we will hurt another person. Maybe it will be an accident, or perhaps it will be a purposeful reaction to someone hurting you. When this does happen, do you want to be forgiven? Do you want another chance to make amends? Most people don’t mean to hurt us – they are dealing with their own pain and unresolved resentment. It’s unfortunate that we take it out on our loved ones, but until we break the cycle, it will continue to happen.
Are you ready to break the cycle and do your part to forgive?