What Does it Mean to Forgive? Why do we Resist it?
Forgiving does not come easy to us. Let’s be honest, the ego is not one to easily give up the past hurts, affronts, painful incidents, and grudges it holds onto in its memory bank. All of these past experiences have impacted us greatly, taught us a great deal, and helped mold us into the person we are today. And so the ego is afraid, because it equates forgiving with erasing parts of the past that has made it who it is. But we can’t erase what was. Forgiving is not about forgetting or denying; making the past “go away.” Forgiving isn’t either about revising or putting a positive spin on the past. What happened happened. End of story.
But that’s exactly the problem, isn’t it? The story doesn’t end there. It is the stories we have created about our past hurts, the unexamined “truths” we have made up about the people in these stories, the anger, the resentment, and the upset, that we continue to carry around with us today; sometimes years later. Forgiving is about releasing these stories, letting go of our need for the past to have been any different than it was, the people in our past to have been any different than they were then or are now.
The other aspect of forgiveness is that the ego resists what it perceives as lack of justice. We see forgiving as whitewashing, as surrendering our rightful claim. By holding on to our anger, our resentment, our grudges we are still punishing the other for what they did. As the self-righteous “punisher” we seemingly have power. Relinquishing that power is scary to the ego who needs to feel protected and in control. But forgiving is not about letting the other off the hook. They did what they did. Forgiving is about letting ourselves off the hook. By holding on to that “punisher” stance, we keep ourselves hooked to that story. We are the ones still upset, who get activated, stressed, and sick to our stomach each time the memory comes around. They did something that hurt us then, but we have tortured ourselves so much more since. Now forgiving–letting go of our desire or power to punish the other–doesn’t necessarily mean that we will wish to be in relationship with that person again. Sometimes a complete separation is the healthiest and most appropriate response; but no particular outcome is dictated by forgiving.
So, this is my definition of forgiving; it is about getting to a place where we can say: “What happened happened. They did what they did. End of story.” And move on. We won’t get there overnight, but the journey itself, and coming all the way through to the other side of a forgiveness blockage is nothing short of liberating.
Tomorrow we will enter into the personal and more practical work of searching our heart. In preparation, I would encourage you to think about one or two people you may be ready to forgive this year. Start with the easy ones in your life, and build on your success.