When we suffer the death of someone we love, we experience mental, emotional and physical distress. In this fragile state, it is likely that we will feel resentment, indignation or anger. Sometimes these feelings may be the result of a perceived offense or difference with someone we know. Even, perhaps, with our deceased loved one.
During the final stages of my husband’s illness and after his death, I remember being surprised at the support and kindness of many people. Some, I hardly knew. I was also surprised by the absence of support and/or inappropriate remarks made by family and friends. One family member told me with great urgency that my children didn’t stand a chance. Her claim was that children of single parents are “always problems and in trouble.”
Other comments, such as “It’s a blessing that his suffering is over,” seemed flippant. Didn’t they know that any young father would gladly suffer in order to watch his children grow up! Everyone who suffers a loss experiences similar situations.
When we think of forgiving others, it may seem an impossible task in our distressed state of mind. We think, “I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m offended. Why should I have to forgive? I’m the injured party!”
It takes great effort and strength to forgive. We are tired and emotionally spent. It is easier to push grudges out of our consciousness or to nurture them into anger in order to focus our emotional energy. The problem with avoiding forgiveness is that it is detrimental to our healing.
It has been my life experience that what goes around, comes around. I know I have made countless blunders in my life—conscious and unconscious—and I always have the expectation of being forgiven. So it is only right that I should forgive others. But that doesn’t make the task any easier.
It may be surprising to learn that we can benefit greatly from forgiving others. In fact, we benefit far more than those we forgive. Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. This information is not new. The ancient Buddhist religion views forgiveness as a practice to prevent harmful thoughts from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being. Buddhism recognizes that feelings of ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mind “karma.” And Judeo-Christian philosophy places great importance on forgiveness as a path to redemption.
Forgiveness is a vital step in the healing we need to recover from the loss of someone we love. Lewis B. Smedes writes, “If you’ve been hurt, do you deserve to go on hurting? Or do you deserve to be healed?” So, the question of forgiveness is whether we and our future are worth it. I think we are. And this makes forgiving easier.
As we begin the process of forgiveness, we should be conscious of these common misconceptions:
Forgiveness will make us feel better right away. (In reality, making the decision to forgive will be only the beginning of a slow, but ultimately satisfying process.)
Forgiveness will only make the other person feel better. (The forgiven person often doesn’t even feel the need to be forgiven or know they have hurt you.)
In order to forgive, we must tell the other person. (As above, the forgiven person often doesn’t know or care to be forgiven.)
To forgive means to forget. (We may never forget the actions that we have forgiven.)
A clergyman once spoke about the difficulty of forgiveness by citing a personal example. After being grievously wronged, he felt the urge to run his car over the perpetrator. As he worked to find forgiveness, he imagined lightly braking, then braking completely and even stopping and waving. As he reached true forgiveness, he could imagine stopping and even offering the person a ride.
While this example might be comical, it illustrates how we must work on the process of letting go of our anger. Forgiveness is a process. It does not happen instantaneously. It is a journey of the heart.
We must internalize these truths as we deal with forgiveness:
Forgiveness involves the mind, emotion and will.
Forgiveness requires a conscious conviction of need to forgive for our own benefit.
Forgiveness attempts to understand the other person.
We must desire to forgive.
We must choose to forgive.
If we keep in mind that it is ourselves who will reap the greatest rewards of forgiveness, we can find the strength to take these steps. And these steps will move us forward on our journey of healing.