How To Forgive

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If you haven’t read it already, check out my blog post The Surprising Truth about Forgiveness to make sure you have the proper foundation before embarking on this next post.

Most of us understand that forgiveness is amazingly important. This one concept has the power to define who you are and direct the path of your life either by its presence or absence. Seems important to get it right then…right? I offer the following as my perspective on how to forgive.

Self-Assessment

The first order of business is to make sure your heart is in the right place. This is also the first step in my post “9 Steps Guaranteed to Improve Your Communication” because I believe in the age old truth that the words coming out of your mouth are the overflow of what is in your heart. Make sure you have taken intentional time to calm yourself and look as objectively as you can at what happened. The point is to seek understanding of what happened inside of you rather than find evidence to convict the other person. The moment I start to understand myself after I have been wronged is the moment I start to break the power it has over me.

In addition to understanding me, it would be wise to understand the other person’s perspective. Orson Scott Card said, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” The goal here is not to inject affection into a relationship that might not deserve it, but rather to put the “human” back into that person. If I take the time to find the common ground we share, it becomes much easier to find the peace within me that allows for the process of forgiveness to continue.

Surrender the Resentment

The Aspen tree is a wonderful metaphor here because of its root system. Instead of regular trees that have independent root systems, aspen groves are all inter-connected. One tree sends out a network of roots that forms the next tree, and the next, and so on. This root system is what has allowed one aspen grove to be the largest recorded living organism on earth. Another interesting thing about aspens is that, much like weeds, they choke out any other kind of tree in the grove. Where I live in Colorado Springs, something I see often is a complete absence of pine trees inside an aspen grove because they all died. When we hold onto resentment, we allow the aspens to grow in our heart. If we hold it long enough, the resentment will choke out all positive thoughts. We will find that life has been sour for sometime and, just like we would have no idea which tree in the Aspen grove started the whole thing, we look at our lives and can’t seem to find the source of our grumpiness or depression. It is vital to do two things: seek understanding of why you became resentful and then let it go. This process allows for clarity when working to forgive.

Do the act of Forgiveness

3 frogs are on a log and one decides to jump off. How many frogs are on the log? Simple math would tell you that only 2 frogs are left, but the correct answer, interestingly, is 3 – the one frog made a choice but never took the action. I can have all sorts of wonderful theories about how to make life better inside my head, but if I never take action, those ideas are dead. I can decide to forgive someone who wronged me, but if I never take action, the void will prove itself soon enough. Forgiveness, like love, is a verb.

“Okay, I’m convinced, but how do I take that action?” That question is hard to answer because each situation is so unique. The following are some ideas of how to take the action of forgiveness. They are not a comprehensive list, but rather a starting platform.

  1. Write a letter, then burn it: Getting your body involved in a choice your mind makes is very important because it means your whole self is in agreement. In this letter, write out the wrong that was done to you (or what you did to someone else) and then write your choice to forgive and why. For example: “I forgive you because I don’t deserve this pain forever and I need to let it go!” Once you are finished, burn the letter as symbolism of its passing from your life.
  2. Say it out loud: Many forms of spirituality place great power in speaking things out in order to give them more staying power in our lives. This is true with forgiveness. Sometimes you need to say it 20 times in a row, but the more you say it, the more it will stick.
  3. Visualize letting it go: Any picture that proves powerful for you will do here. Imagine letting a large burning coal dropping from your hands. Imagine yourself in a courtroom being freed from all charges. Imagine poison in your veins being extracted out.

Keep Moving

If you have successfully prepared for, and enacted, forgiveness, the next step is to make sure you start moving forward. Beware the “victim role” here. There is a big difference between being a victim and being in a “victim role” and I want to be clear on what each means. Being a victim means that something bad happened to you that you did not bring upon yourself. This is legitimate, painful, and real. Being in a “victim role” means that you might use the fact that you are a victim to constantly seek sympathy, to manipulate others, to get out of some responsibilities, or even justify showing negative behavior towards others. Like it or not, lots of us do this from time to time because of the perceived value we get out of it. The challenge for us all is to make sure we let go of this temptation.

The whole process can been seen like this: Un-forgiveness (resentment, etc.) is like a huge balloon that gets tied around your waist and lifts you high off the ground, forcing you to drift in directions you don’t want to go. Forgiveness is popping that balloon and beginning the sometimes scary process of getting back to the ground and reality. The victim role is like a net that catches you and prevents you from reaching the ground. When you land in the net, it asks you, “Are you sure you want to do this? It can be rough down there you know. I can keep you away from it all.” Thus the net promises safety, but delivers more disconnection from the world around you. We must respectfully decline the net’s offer and finish our journey back to the ground and the ability to go the direction we desire again. How do we decline that offer? We take responsibility for our own healing process instead of manipulating or expecting others to do it for us.

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