The word “give” is a part of forgiveness. For December, the positivity project is focusing on how forgiving is giving yourself a gift. When people cause us hurt, we might feel angry or betrayed, and we might want justice. Yet we rarely get the justice we desire, and we usually end up carrying the negative emotions around with us. We ruminate over our injury and stay angry with the perpetrator. This poisons even other relationships, and can lead to bearing grudges or feuding. Holding onto an injustice keeps us looking in the rearview mirror instead of ahead. When we become consumed with anger or resentment, we’ve let the other person or their actions own a piece of our future. This does not allow us to be our best self and
Forgiveness is not a simple topic to talk about. Every person has their unique situation. Forgiveness also has many layers or levels. For example, if someone bumps into you, you may initially feel anger, but it’s usually short lived and easy to forget about. When the injury is more significant, it’s not that easy. I was recently talking with someone whose sister was murdered. She will never forgive the person who took her sister away from her forever. She cannot forgive him. She has set healthy boundaries in her life to prevent that level of hurt from getting to her again. She doesn’t hold onto the anger she feels. She has accepted reality and can still find joy in her life, but she can’t and won’t move to the stage of forgiveness.
I recently listened to an interview with Amanda Knox. She was wrongfully accused of murder and served four years in prison before she was acquitted, and the real killer was convicted. Yet, still, there were many who wouldn’t accept her innocence. Amanda shared in the interview that the one thing she had and still has control over is her own mind. She can control her feelings and thoughts. She chooses to avoid indulging in the anger and hurt. It has helped her to move on and to heal. Miroslav Volf, a theologian who teaches at the Yale Divinity School, used the metaphor for forgiveness as going from stuck to unstuck. “The done deed cannot be undone, so to forgive is unsticking the deed from the doer.” To forgive is to be free from the burden of it.
Research suggests that forgiveness benefits our physical and mental health. Physically, there is a reduction in cardiac stress, and you get better sleep once you’ve forgiven someone. There are improvements in immune function and less fatigue. Mentally, those who can forgive show less depression, a decrease in negative emotions and an increase in hope and compassion. Forgiveness is a voluntary act. You can’t force someone to forgive. Forgiveness isn’t always a one and done process either. It may be messy. You may be able to forgive and then something happens, and you go backwards and can’t forgive. Then through new willingness or motivation, you may be able to forgive a little and a little more. Volf shares that we can grow into forgiveness. It’s less of a single act and more of a process. Two steps forward and one step back is OK. There is release through forgiveness. There are no happy, beautiful, interpersonal relationships without forgiveness. It
This year give yourself the gift of forgiveness.