For many of us, it’s a big scary word. Whether we’re seeking it or giving it, it can be a hard thing to come by. And while it’s not the most popular of topics, I’m learning that forgiving is a key component to living our best lives.
I’ve been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately. Specifically, why is it so hard for some of us to forgive? What is truly required of us to give forgiveness? And who does it really benefit?
Personally, my reflections have stemmed from a spiritual sense of forgiveness. The fact that I am forgiven by God, loved by him so greatly that no matter how undeserving I may be, he is always ready to forgive us – that in itself is an enormous blessing.
Now to be completely transparent, my intent with this post isn’t to preach. Instead, I’m sharing that my experience of spiritual forgiveness has drastically shaped how I view forgiveness in our world. My hope is that we can all start to shed the weight of our anger, frustration, and hurt by slowly learning how to forgive and love.
What it Means to Forgive and What is Required of Us
Before we can start asking why forgiveness is so hard, it’s important to understand what forgiveness really is, and what it requires from us.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to forgive is to stop feeling anger toward someone (who has done something wrong) or to stop blaming someone.
This is all about feelings, not facts.
If someone hurt you, forgiving them does not mean that you have to negate your feelings. You are still allowed to feel hurt, and how you experience a situation is still your own truth.
Forgiveness also does not require us to forget what happened.
It doesn’t require us to give trust in return.
Forgiveness simply requires us to let go of the negative feelings that we have towards that person or situation. It requires us to put the past behind us and make a commitment to moving towards a better future relationship.
Forgiveness isn’t about changing the past, it’s about changing the future
The past is in the past. We can’t change what someone did to us before, whether it was intentional or not.
What we can control, however, is how we move forward. Forgiveness allows us to release our hurt or anger – something that has a far greater impact on ourselves than the person we are forgiving.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
While the person you forgive will certainly benefit from your forgiveness, I’d argue that the person who benefits the most from the act is the one doing the forgiving.
Don’t believe me? There’s a ton of research out there on the benefits of forgiving someone. Here’s just a sample from the Mayo Clinic:
“Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for happiness, health and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:
- Healthier relationships
- Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
- Less anxiety, stress and hostility
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- Stronger immune system
- Improved heart health
- Higher self-esteem”
…just to name a few.
Why are there so many benefits to forgiving someone? Because when we hold in grudges and anger, we are actually hurting ourselves more than the person we are angry with. We cause more stress and anxiety in our own lives, and taking the steps to release the negative feelings and ill-will we have towards others actually plays a big role in our own health and happiness.
Why Do We Have Such a Hard Time Forgiving Others?
So if forgiveness is so beneficial to our health and well-being, why do we have such a hard time giving it?
Here’s the thing about forgiveness: it requires vulnerability.
It requires us to first acknowledge the hurt we feel, even if it’s just to ourselves.
That in and of itself can stop people from wanting to forgive. If we keep things bottled up, then we can continue to sweep them under the rug forever, right?
From experience, I can say with complete certainly that holding things in and keeping them to yourself isn’t doing anyone any good. In fact, you’re just making yourself into a ticking time bomb.
If we choose, instead, to stop measuring our lives by how we’ve been hurt, we can begin to fill our lives with more compassion and understanding.
Forgiveness is the greatest blessing that God has given us.
If God is so ready to forgive us, shouldn’t we then seek to forgive our fellow humans?
This is what it all boils down to in my opinion. If we can start to understand forgiveness as the greatest gift that God has given us, we can learn to more easily forgive not just others, but ourselves as well.
Keep the lessons, and let go of the anger. Reflect and release.
Forgive but don’t Forget
You know the saying, “Forgive but don’t forget?” There’s an important caveat here.
When we forgive someone, we aren’t required to forget how they hurt us. We may remember their transgressions in the future and may make different decisions with our trust moving forward. Forgetting is not a requirement of forgiveness.
But here’s the thing: forgiving does require us to let go of those feelings and resentment. This means that although we may learn from past experiences, if we choose to forgive, we cannot bring up those feelings again in the future as ammo. We cannot always revert back to this state of anger and frustration at past experiences. If we choose to forgive, we must truly let it go, or it isn’t really forgiveness after all.
At the end of the day, we’ve all been on both sides. We’ve sought forgiveness and we’ve (hopefully) given it. Admittedly, it’s usually harder to do the forgiving.
But once we start to realize how much more forgiveness benefits our own lives, how much anxiety and stress and negativity we release when we forgive; if we can view forgiveness as the greatest gift God has given us, we will realize that it’s not just a gift for others; forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give ourselves.