I am a Christian so the concept of forgiveness is very familiar to me, however, l am quick to state that although it is familiar, it is a very difficult concept to understand and accept, as it generally goes against our grain as human beings. We are dogmatic about it especially when mediating between warring parties where we wave it as a magic wand that will make good all differences. Although we seek it from God and people, we are not quick to give it or accept it because of our notions as to what we think it is.
It is said that to understand what a thing is, one must first understand and clarify what it is not.
1. is not a feeling. We are wont to think that someday we would eventually get to a place where we would feel like forgiving and that forgiveness will naturally flow from that feeling.
2. is not forgetting. A lot of times we equate forgiveness with forgetting and we believe that we can only be said to have forgiven when we do not remember our hurts and when we do not talk about them.
3. is not reconciliation. This is a common mistake we make with forgiveness in that we think that since we have been forgiven or since we have forgiven it takes our relationship back to where it was before the offence but this is untrue especially where trust is destroyed as it takes time and concerted effort to build trust.
4. is not condoning or excusing bad behavior. The fact that we forgive people must not be seen as an approval of their bad behavior or hurtful actions
5. is not a waiver of legal process and liability. This is especially true in our clime. We tend to think that because we have “left everything to God” we have practiced forgiveness. But forgiveness doesn’t mean that a person would not pay for their crimes. I like to put it this way- if you engaged in pre- marital sex and got pregnant and called out to God for forgiveness, he will forgive you but you will have the baby.
So what is forgiveness?
Wikipedia defines it as the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, and overcomes negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance. I like to define it as the choice not to let the actions of someone else influence your being, state of mind and actions.
I have found that forgiveness is a process, albeit, it starts with a decision but it is a process nonetheless, it starts but doesn’t end with that decision as one tends to go back and forth with the emotions of our hurts until we reach that place of inner peace. It need not be told to the offender and can be given without the offender’s knowledge.
The how to-
I have found out that speaking out loud and saying the words ……( the person’s name) I forgive you for…( what they did ) is sufficient. I have also found out that repeating the words whenever I feel the pain bubbling up again helps to reinforce the decision. I have practiced this simple but powerful method often with tears in my eyes, gnashing my teeth, I have found it to be very effective in dousing the pain and hurt I have felt. Surprisingly, after a while my emotions subside, the memories begin to wear thin and to my shock, I start to feel some pity or empathy for the person that offended me.
Forgiveness is mostly viewed from two perspectives – God who forgives liberally all who ask Him for forgiveness and Man who finds it very difficult to forgive those that hurt him. There is however a third but rarely discussed perspective and it is forgiveness of one’s self.
I have successfully forgiven people but I have found it much more difficult to forgive myself. I have berated myself severally for years, putting myself down and disallowing myself from enjoying some pleasures because I had done things I didn’t think I could do or that I had berated others for doing. So if there is anyone who is like me I have some few tips to share on how to forgive one’s self.
1. Acknowledge the hurt. We can’t forgive what we do not acknowledge exists, it is alright to say I am hurt, I am hurting. I am offended, I have offended someone else, I have let myself down by compromising my values etc.
2. Take responsibility for the action or actions. This is a rather difficult thing to do and hinders self-forgiveness because most of us shy away from facing our mistakes by rationalizing them and blaming others. So it’s time to stop lying about the motives behind the actions you took; time to accept your part in the death of that relationship.
3. Accept your humanity, for a lot of us we have so put ourselves on a pedestal that it is rather difficult for us to accept our human frailty and the fact that we are subject to the emotions and motives we decry in others. So if for instance you found yourself engaged in an extramarital affair it’s time to acknowledge that you are not a saint and that you do have feet of clay like others.
4. Show yourself compassion by allowing yourself to make mistakes and forgiving yourself just like you would forgive someone else. Yes I have actually spoken to myself out loud; Tara, I forgive you for…
The benefits of forgiveness whether of others or one’s self are immense but for me the greatest benefit has been its effect on my mental health as I have learnt not to take myself too seriously and to stop self-loathing and sabotaging myself.
So my advice to us today is cut yourself some slack, free yourself, open the prison door. You’ve wallowed under the weight of that shame, guilt and pain for too long.