Forgiveness is a Bold Choice
By Joseph Sica
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you. ~ (Eph. 4:31-32)
I recently visited a friend and his family in the hospice unit at one of our local hospitals. As I sat talking with my friend, Bill, a gentleman walked into the room. Bill began to cry. The visitor, who was also crying, leaned over the bed to embrace Bill.
After a few moments, the man, whose name turned out to be Ken, said to me, “Bill is my brother. We haven’t spoken in over twenty-five years.”
Caught by surprise, I said, “You’re kidding me!”
“We had an argument over a piece of property,” replied Ken. “We’ve been estranged from each other ever since.”
“We shouldn’t have left things like this for so long,” Bill said.
“No,” Ken agreed. “It shouldn’t take something like this—” he gestured at Bill’s hospital bed, “to get us to come to our senses.”
“You’re right,” Bill said. “Ken, you haven’t met my children.” Then Bill introduced his grown children to their uncle. I left the hospice unit thinking, there’s something wrong when we can’t forgive.
Watching the two brothers reunite on Bill’s deathbed reminded me about the power of forgiveness and our need for it in our lives. Life is short. It’s too difficult to make up the time we’ve wasted by holding grudges and refusing to forgive those we love. Sure, when someone says something or does something to cause us harm, it hurts. But we need to move beyond the initial hurt and find healing, which can only come from forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the bold choice we make when we clear our lives of resentment, bitterness, anger, hatred, the desire for revenge, and the unfinished business we may have with a spouse, parent, child, brother, sister, or friend—important business we need to take care of before it’s too late. We need to ask ourselves if we really want to waste precious time and energy carrying around nasty feelings for someone whom we care deeply. More importantly, we need to consider that our time may run out before we get the chance to make amends.
We must learn to forgive so that we can not only mend our relationship with other people, but also learn to heal ourselves. When we refuse to forgive, the other person owns a very important part of us, a negative part that always reminds us of turmoil and conflict. Letting go of our anger allows us to leave that negative portion behind us and begin again. Holding onto past transgressions only weakens our relationships, preventing us from making amends and putting our lives back together.
While it’s impossible to forget the damage another person may have done to us, forgiveness doesn’t require that we erase the transgression from our memory. All we need to do is learn to put aside our negative feelings about what happened and allow them to stop infecting our relationship.
That doesn’t mean we should sweep them under the carpet. If someone has hurt you, it’s important to find a way to discuss your feelings with that person, let him or her know that while you were hurt, you are more concerned with repairing your broken relationship. If we neglect our relationship problems, then the negative feelings will keep building up inside of us, increasing the distance between us and shutting the other person out of our lives.
If you find it difficult to make the first step toward forgiveness, ask yourself, “What is it like for the other person right now?” Often, that person will be longing for forgiveness just as earnestly as we long to give it. Try to identify with their situation, feelings, and motives, and you will gain a level of insightfulness as to why they have spoken words that hurt or undertaken actions that have harmed us. When we understand how the other person feels, we can begin to imagine the words we’ll need to say in order to reach mutual forgiveness. One day, the roles of wronged and wrongdoer may be reversed; prepare for it by doing your best to make peace.
A friend named Charlie came to see me about a problem he was having. He was angry with his father for dying. “He died just when I was getting to know him as a buddy, a friend,” Charlie said. “We’d fish, hunt, and golf together. Now it’s all gone.”
I told him, “You have unfinished business with your father. Go tell him.”
“He’s dead,” Charlie said. “How can I?”
“Get in your car, go to the cemetery, and tell him how angry you are with him.” Charlie left, looking confused.
Two weeks later, Charlie returned. “I feel much better,” he said. “I drove to the cemetery, stood over his grave, and dumped my anger. Then I closed my eyes and told myself what I thought my dad might say. Wow, I never realized how much energy I was using up by keeping all of that anger inside! I had no idea what all those feelings could do to a person. I’m so much happier now that I’ve forgiven him for dying.” I agreed, applauding Charlie for what he had done.
Forgiveness brings healing, freedom, and peace back into our lives. Opening our eyes, allowing us to see what has truly happened, forgiveness calls for us to break down the walls we’ve put up; put an end to the silent treatment and call a halt to the cold war. Use today as an opportunity to open a door that has been closed too long. Forgive. Let it go. Put the past behind you, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.
Give forgiveness a try. It works.
Joseph Sica is a priest from Wilkes-Barre, PA. He is a storyteller and a motivational speaker. His recent book is Embracing Change: 10 Ways to Grow Spiritually and Emotionally, available at amazon.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.