I think the most sought-after three words aren’t “I love you,” but “I forgive you.” There’s nothing more healing, no greater act of love than forgiveness. Those simple words unpack so much compassion and strength. If we can do any good with our time on Earth, we should make every effort to be loving and to be forgiving.
When we feel broken, at the very root of it, whether we realize it or not, lies unforgiveness. Buried under layers of guilt, hurt, anger, or indifference is someone or something we have yet to forgive. As author Allen Hunt writes, “Everybody needs to forgive somebody.” But what is forgiveness and how do we do it?
What Is Forgiveness?
Some understand forgiveness as simply moving on from something or someone who hurt us, but forgiveness is much more than just letting things go. Forgiveness requires an act of compassion. As humans, we are far from perfect and we can do horrible things to each other, but forgiveness doesn’t have anything to do with condoning someone’s actions. To forgive someone doesn’t mean you have to forget, but I think that’s what most of us try and do when we feel hurt. Instead of forgiving, we just focus on trying to forget about it. We try to bury it, ignore it, or move past it like it didn’t happen.
Forgiveness doesn’t have anything to do with condoning someone’s actions.
What is so important about forgiveness? It removes the burden of anger, resentment, and fear that can eat away at you. It frees up space in your heart for goodness. Instead of harboring negative emotions, you bear love, kindness, honesty. It’s incredibly freeing; it’s like having an ocean of peace reside within you.
How Do We Forgive Others?
We don’t always feel remorse from the people who have hurt us the most and that can be frustrating. But forgiveness shouldn’t come at the cost of an apology. We can grow comfortable with our own apathy and even our own bitterness. We can be closed off, protecting our wounds from being opened again. Forgiveness isn’t easy for most people. It’s a difficult choice to show compassion, especially when it’s not earned.
Forgiveness is a process. To truly forgive requires the mental capacity of letting yourself revisit the experiences you’ve had and reflect on them, journal about them, or even talk about them. Finding understanding or empathy for whoever hurt you can take time, especially if that person is yourself.
Forgiveness shouldn’t come at the cost of an apology.
Think back to your childhood and ask yourself if there’s anyone you need to forgive — a parent, a teacher, a friend? Consider the biggest mistakes or failures you’ve made in your life. Remind yourself of any hurt you felt in previous relationships. Whatever or whomever comes to mind as you reflect, write it down on a sheet of paper.
Take that piece of paper, listing of all the people who have hurt you and failures you’ve encountered, and destroy it. I would burn it, throw it in a fire, and watch it incinerate until it’s merely ashes. Destroying it means you can’t hold on to the sadness anymore.
Sometimes, writing things down isn’t enough. In his book Everybody Needs To Forgive Somebody, Allen Hunt suggests writing a letter. Send it or don’t send it, but sometimes conveying how you felt and giving consideration to painful experiences or relationships can really help. He also included that studies have shown that even just talking to someone you trust can help process the need for forgiveness. If you need to forgive someone who is currently still in your life, practice telling them “I forgive you for ___” to get what might be a difficult conversation started.
Speaking for myself, I couldn’t deny someone my forgiveness because of something quite simple — my faith. But while it’s not hard for me personally to forgive others, I’m the hardest on myself. Worse than being hurt is hurting someone else. But I’ve learned that our inability to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made isn’t humility — it’s pride.
To truly forgive others, we have to be able to forgive ourselves.
To truly forgive others, we have to be able to forgive ourselves. Otherwise, our forgiveness isn’t sincere. We can’t hold our offenses above those of others if we honestly believe that no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. Sure, some mistakes are worse in comparison, but forgiveness isn’t about weighing the seriousness of the wrongdoing. It’s about letting go of our disappointment and then choosing to replace negative emotions with compassion.
Forgiveness is healing. Its power is often underestimated, but once you’ve felt the peace that comes with it, you understand how integral it is in our lives. Try making it a habit to forgive quickly so that anger, resentment, or hate never get the chance to take residence in your heart. It doesn’t do anyone any good to hold on to such feelings — life is too short.