Forgiveness is an easy virtue to praise. Forgiveness is psychologically healing. Many believe it is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth. That’s all great. But when you are struggling with some very real wrongs that have been perpetrated against you or those you love, forgiveness can seem nearly impossible.
How can you forgive without actually accepting – nearly condoning – the offense or crime? Some say, we should forgive the sinner but not the sin. That thought is nearly worthless in the face of brutality or deep betrayal. Some offenses are so hurtful, so permanently damaging, that forgiveness seems a trite and wholly inappropriate response.
I was in a group recently where forgiveness was discussed. Out of 30 people, about a third insisted there are some wrongs that just can’t be forgiven. Those who rejected forgiveness were emphatic, deeply offended by the thought of forgiving grievous wrongs.
Yet not forgiving means you have to hold bitterness, resentment, and even hate. When you hold these dark emotions, the perpetrator in effect hurts you over and over and over. There’s one simple fact that argues for forgiveness, that makes forgiveness an imperative: forgiveness heals the forgiver.
Nelson Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Mandela couldn’t get his 27 years back – the best years, the most fruitful years of a life. Yet if he kept his bitterness and hatred, he would be useless as a man and worthless as a leader
Some say forgive, but don’t forget. That’s not forgiveness. Forgiveness must be unconditional or it is not forgiveness at all.
Forgiveness is a psychologically healthy act. In an article in Unity Magazine, Carla McClellan, quotes psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky saying that forgiveness “is a shift in thinking toward someone who has harmed you. It has nothing to do with reconciliation, forgetting, excusing, or justice. When you are ready, forgiveness is a powerful choice you can make that can lead to greater well-being and relationships. This choice carries with it an intention to heal yourself.”
Even more than a psychologically healthy act, forgiveness is spiritual cleansing. In his book, “Radical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle,” Colin Tipping explains that ordinary forgiveness is letting bygones be bygones – letting go of the past while still holding onto the idea that something wrong or bad happened. He believes that’s a difficult task and that it usually takes a very long time before we begin to feel the forgiveness.
Instead, he suggests trying “radical forgiveness,” which he describes as a deep commitment to releasing the past. The release is more total since it involves a shift in perception that allows us to see that what happened was actually perfect from a spiritual point of view. It is experienced as a profound insight and can occur in an instant.
Tipping says that radical forgiveness enables us to see the spiritual meaning in any situation. We are able to recognize that life is divinely guided and unfolding for each of us exactly how it needs to unfold for our highest good. We are able to surrender to the flow of life and to learn that, ultimately, there is nothing to forgive.
When we receive this insight, we can let go of being a victim and find peace, even in the most unpleasant memories of what happened. Our hearts open and we are able to experience spiritual oneness with the world.
Forgiveness is necessary to relieve ourselves of the dark and damaging emotions of bitterness, resentment and hate. Those emotions will eat us like cancer. We can – and must – purge these destructive forces with true forgiveness. We can forgive and be healed. When we allow forgiveness, the world changes. The veil of darkness is lifted and we can see we are surrounded by light.