January 2001

 

"To err is human, to forgive divine."
--Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

"Forgive and forget:"  much easier said than done.  It is said that when God forgives, He/She forgets.  As mere mortals, it is not within our power to selectively forget things, especially those things which have caused us significant pain, grief, anger, frustration, and/or disappointment.  When people wrong us, it sticks with us, creating a lingering grudge or attitude toward that person.  While we say we forgive them, we still harbor the indelible memory of their acts against us.  How can we truly forgive without forgetting?  As long as we hold onto the painful memories associated with an individual, we have not "let go" of the past and have not completely wiped the slate clean and offered true and lasting forgiveness.

The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines forgiveness as: 1. giving up resentment of or claim to requital for; 2. to grant relief from payment of; 3. to cease to feel resentment against; to pardon or excuse.  Perhaps it is not in the erasing of our memory banks that we are able to offer true forgiveness, but in the changing of our inner attitudes about the causative event; taking a bad situation and transforming it into a positive lesson from which we can learn and grow.

When those around us wrong us, we seek retaliation.  We want to see them punished for the hurt they've inflicted upon us, whether intentional or not.  We have an instinct for justice to be served; for an equilibrium to be attained.  We want them to know the error of their ways.  We want them to change according to our perspective.  We want them to pay the price that we deem fit for the "crime."  However, until we fully understand and accept that we cannot change anyone but ourselves, we are stuck in a powerless battle.  Rather than repay evil with evil, isn't it more effective to treat our enemies with kindness, gentleness, and a forgiving attitude?  If we strike back, we will only perpetuate the cycle of pain.  But, if we show mercy and grace, our adversaries will naturally feel remorse for the harm they've caused and realize the error of their ways of their own accord.  The best way to forgive someone is to simply love them despite what they've done.

Our best defense and our most effectual reprisal is to examine our role in the event which led to the need for forgiveness.  We must look within ourselves and take responsibility for those things we which are at fault for.  After self-examination, we can then make the effort to metamorphose our own behavior, recreating ourselves into a better person--not a bitter person.  It is not our role nor our responsibility to judge others.  We can only judge ourselves.  We must understand that all events, both good and bad, happen for a reason; that all incidents in our lives serve to strengthen our character, teach us valuable lessons, and offer growth for our souls.  When we hold onto anger, resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness, we are harming  and hindering our spiritual journey.

Forgiveness doesn't mean pretending something never happened.  Forgiveness means unconditional love in the face of adversity.  It means that we take life's lemons and make a scrumptious meringue pie, offering the first piece to the one who gave us the lemons in the first place.  We cannot control how other people will treat us.  But, we are in complete control of how we respond to the afflictions we face.  We can choose to remain sour and embittered, or we can add the necessary ingredients to make something sweet.  We can take the humanistic approach and bear the burden of malice, or we can seek to act divinely and offer our transgressors mercy and love.

Forgiveness is a choice and the choice is yours.  

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