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What everyone ought to know about forgiveness

It’s so easy to forgive people we don’t know.

The cashier at Target who lumped all of your frozen entrees and produce with your cleaning products can easily be forgiven. Not because she’s special, but because it’s easy to rationalize why she would mix your deadly cleansing chemicals with the food you plan to eat.

“Oh, she must be having a bad day,” you say to yourself. Without being flippant or even mentioning the error of her ways, you grab your bags and move on.

In my last article, I talked about how to handle rude people. While that article could be used to handle all rude people, it was mainly aimed at people with whom you have some sort of relationship. The people you care about, whether on an acquaintance level or on a spousal level.

I realize that it’s almost impossible to really genuinely deal with their sudden change in behavior until you’ve forgiven them. Forgiveness is an essential spiritual cleanser that you need to have in your pockets at all times. It cleanses your heart and your psyche so you can get on with living the life you want.

But before you go on a forgiveness fest, let’s dispel some common myths of forgiveness.

You forgive people so that they can stop feeling guilty. They can’t really be happy until they know that you’ve forgiven them.

• False. Forgiveness is for you. When you forgive, you're essentially letting go of the wrong doings others have done to you. However, you do this not because you agree with their behavior. You do it so that you free yourself from bitterness, resentment, unspoken anger, and lots of self-sabotage. You see, when you refuse to forgive people, it hurts you, not them. So you lay down your score cards so that you can carry a lighter load.

Because I forgave them, I can judge them.

• False. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you can judge. So you’ve forgiven the person who has done wrong to you in some way. And now, every move they make, you are there to jump on it and criticize it. You do this in a way to prove you’re good and they’re bad. You’re right and they’re wrong. Judge not lest ye be judged, my friend. Forgiveness doesn’t give you the right to micromanage people. If the person you’ve forgiven is still acting badly, that’s their choice. You can only control you. And if you’re mentally going around pointing the finger at other’s behaviors, you’re only holding yourself back.

Now that I have forgiven them, they should change their behavior.

• False. Ignore their behavior. As I said before, forgiveness is for YOU. Not your momma, not your daddy, not your spouse, not your friends, not your children, not your co-workers, or anyone else on your forgiveness list. It’s for you. Just because you’ve forgiven someone doesn’t mean that their behavior will change. It doesn’t mean that all of a sudden that a pathological liar will become an honest Abe. How about this? Once you’ve forgiven the person, just disregard their behavior altogether. Unless it conflicts with your values,( in which case you might need to rethink their presence in your life) just love and accept them where they are now.

Because I’ve forgiven them, now I have to hang out with them. If I don’t then it looks like I’m holding a grudge.

• False. You don’t have to break bread with people you’ve forgiven. I used to believe that once I’ve forgiven a person that I had to implant them back into my life. That’s not necessarily the case. Some people can be forgiven and reentered in your life for what they’ve done if it matches your definition of minor. But what about major offenses; offenses so great it takes months or years to get to the bottom of? Even after you’ve taken the allotted time needed to heal yourself, the desire to have that person in your life may not be there. Furthermore, even if the offense was minor (per your definition), you still do not have to add them back in your life. There’s no rule saying you have to go to dinner with them or hang out with them just because you’ve forgiven them. Besides, being worried about “how it looks” is a total waste of time. Who are you living for? You or the people judging you by “how things look”?

Once I’ve forgiven them, I shouldn’t think about what happened. I should be able to get over everything quickly.

• Maybe yes and maybe no. Forgiveness is not a onetime deal. Sometimes, depending on the circumstance, it takes a helluva lot of forgiveness exercises before you’re fully over it. Don’t believe the hype; time doesn’t heal all wounds, but it does allow for some perspective on the events that occurred. You may forgive someone today and totally eradicate the events that took place from your mind. Three years from now, someone could say something or do something that will trigger your memory of what that person did years earlier. At that point, you may need to forgive that person again. And no, you’re not bad because you have to forgive that person again for something that happened however long ago.

We all have wounds and they all come up at different points in our life. I believe that sometimes our old crap comes up so that we can deal with it in order to move on to something better. It’s when we run away from our pain that we keep perpetuating it. (Ever notice how sometimes the new situation you’re in resembles the last situation you were in? You’re carrying an old wound that needs to be healed.)

Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door to complete healing. All you have to do is say the magic words of “I forgive you.”

Are you ready to do that?


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