You need to forgive for your own sake
Do you have an easy time letting go of something bad that happened to you?
I imagine all of us have struggled with unforgiveness before. Isn’t it mind-blowing how difficult it can be to let things go? I know I’ve struggled with this a lot and no matter how much I tell myself to forgive, it doesn’t seem to help, especially when we feel the aggressor doesn’t deserve our forgiveness. But here’s the thing: you don’t forgive to help them, but to help yourself.
We need to forgive for our own sakes
It’s strange, but forgiveness has very little to do with the person we’re upset with. That person can burst into flames, live blissfully ignorant of our torment, rub it in our face, apologize, or none of the above, and that doesn’t change our ability to forgive. Forgiveness is about the condition of our own hearts after we’ve been wronged (or when we feel like we’ve been wronged).
When you are unforgiving, you feel bitterness/resentment/anger towards that person. It hurts. Honestly, it almost always hurts you more than it hurts the person you’re unforgiving towards. But there is something freeing about letting it go and allowing yourself to be released from those bad feelings. It doesn’t have anything to do with the person who wronged you.
My grandpa’s analogy
I love this analogy my grandpa always told me growing up. Suppose you’re driving and someone cuts you off in traffic. You feel your pulse speed up, your stress level increases, and you feel anger towards that person. Later, at work, you find yourself talking about that jerk that cut you off in traffic and you’re still fuming over it.
Let’s see what happened to your jerk you’re so mad at.
He cuts you off in traffic and then forgets about it. He goes about his day, blissfully unaware that you’re still upset about it. The end.
See how unproductive unforgiveness is? As Mark Gungor says, “Unforgiveness is like taking poison hoping the other guy will die.” Whether or not you forgive the guy that cut you off in traffic, he is unaffected. You’re the one whose day might be ruined by it.
On the other hand, if you handled the situation with a forgiving attitude, you’ll still feel the stress right after the guy cuts you off, but then you take a deep breath and don’t talk about it for the rest of the day, and you’ll probably have a better day than you had in the previous situation.
They don’t have to be sorry!
As I said, forgiveness has almost nothing to do with the offender. You can choose to forgive anyone, regardless of their intent or existence of an apology.
I once wasted some months being angry at someone who hurt my family. Truth be told, I never met him as I wasn’t there the day the incident happened. Do you think he lost any sleep over my anger? Of course not! He still doesn’t even know I exist. And even if he did feel bad, that wouldn’t have lessened my pain from unforgiveness.
It was only when I decided to forgive and let go of that bitterness that I really healed from the situation. Was he sorry? No. Did that matter? No! I made the decision to wish him well and to stop talking about it. It took a lot of time to change my feelings, but now I have no pain when I hear about him and I do sincerely wish him a good life. Forgiveness freed me from the pain (with time).
Sometimes the pain won’t ever go away, but I sincerely believe it lessens with time when you practice forgiveness.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” - Gandhi
Let me go ahead and define what I think forgiveness is. I really like Mark Gungor’s definition, which is: “I forgive you. I will never use it against you in the future. I will never speak of it again to you or to anyone else.” I agree with him that forgiveness is more about what you say than what you feel.
I think forgiveness is willfully letting go of bitterness and the need for revenge, and instead, wishing good on the other person. Forgiveness is dropping the subject. The person doesn’t have to be sorry and you don’t have to trust the person. There isn’t a person on the planet you aren’t capable of forgiving. Jesus forgave the people who crucified him (who were definitely not sorry), so we can forgive whoever wrongs us.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean trust
I recall in college a professor asked if forgiveness meant we were cool enough that we could have lunch with the aggressor. At the time, I said yes, while some others gave very resounding nos. I was a little confused and pridefully figured they weren’t as forgiving as I was. I had much to learn.
You don’t have to trust someone to forgive. As I said, the aggressor could still be aggressive towards you and as such, you probably should avoid them. That doesn’t mean you can’t forgive them though. Forgiveness does not mean you should subject yourself to further abuse.
As a slightly extreme example, let’s say that someone non-fatally stabs another person. The person who was stabbed should not willingly be in the same room as the person who stabbed him; that’s just common sense. He can forgive the man, but he shouldn’t seek out the person. Talking it out is probably not a good idea in this case, since the intent to harm probably hasn’t changed, so the aggressor should be avoided at all times. But what the injured can do is stop talking about his anger towards the aggressor, stop wishing pain and misery on the aggressor, possibly stop talking about the incident entirely, and eventually find it in his heart to wish good on the bad person.
I’m not saying the injured person should hope the aggressor gets a private island, but maybe wish that the bad person will become more good and become happy from the goodness he can bring into the world. Hopefully the bad person gets arrested for his crimes, so he doesn't hurt more innocents.
Our injured person doesn’t need an apology in order to heal; he owes it to himself to forgive so that he can release himself from the pain of bitterness, as the pain of the injury is more than his fair share of pain already. He deserves the healing power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not condone the action
Another reason people are generally hesitant to forgive is because they feel it justifies the wrongdoing. By no means is this true! Never did Jesus say a bad deed was okay when He forgave someone. You can forgive someone for stealing something, but that doesn’t make it right. All it does is free yourself from your bitterness and misery.
Honestly, if someone wants you to be miserable, why are you giving them what they want?
Broadway song on forgiveness
You mustn't be revengeful
You have to be strong
To offer good for evil
Return right for wrong
We must not hold a grudge
And we must learn to endure
Then as God is your judge
At least your heart will be pure
Forgiveness is the mightiest sword
Forgiveness of those you hate
Will be your highest reward
When they bruise you with words
When they make you feel small
When it's hardest to bear
You must do nothing at all
Forgiveness is the simplest vow
Forgiveness of all their crimes
Is your deliverance now
Bless those souls
Who would curse your name
When the last bell tolls
You'll be free of blame
You can continue to grieve
But know the Gospel is true
You must forgive those who lie
And bless them that curse you
Forgiveness is the mightiest sword
Forgiveness of those you fear
Will be your highest reward
The time will come when we will leave this world,
And then the injustice and the pain and the sin will fall away from us,
And only the spark of the spirit will remain - returning to God who created it
You must never lose faith
You must never lose heart
God will restore your trust
And I know you're afraid
I'm as scared as you are
But willing to be brave
Brave enough for love
The Lord’s admonition to forgive
“I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:10) The Lord expects us to forgive everyone, no matter what, seventy times seven. If we don’t forgive others, He won’t forgive us. It is not our place to make others pay for what they have done to us, nor is it our place to condemn them for their misdeeds. It is only our place to allow ourselves to heal by not allowing bitterness and revenge to swell up inside us like cancer.
My challenge is threefold. Feel free to do whichever ones you like.
First, I’d like you to reflect on the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”
Secondly, I’d like you to think about someone you might not be forgiving. Who is someone you have anger and resentment towards? I recommend praying sincerely that you can forgive that person and release those feelings of bitterness. If you aren’t the praying type, try meditation and try to create a sincere desire to forgive that person and release those feelings of bitterness.
Thirdly, I’d like you to watch this video where Mark Gungor talks about forgiveness. I recommend watching the whole thing, but 1:38-4:21 is the part you should definitely watch. (Also as a note, be cautious if you’re watching it around kids, because he does talk about King David’s adultery.)
May you find healing and peace through your miraculous ability to forgive and let the past go. I wish you the best on this journey and hope you can be free from anger so that you can experience greater happiness.