Forgiveness is hard work. I sometimes refer to it as “surgery of the heart.” No one looks forward to the process of surgery, but when people look beyond the procedure to what lies ahead once healing occurs, it is easier to bear.
The process of forgiveness includes bearing pain and finding meaning in suffering. It requires pain, emotional pain, as we look directly at another’s injustice and struggle to see him or her as a person, just as I-the-forgiver am a person.
The joy comes, I think, in triumphing through a challenging process and becoming stronger once the process is complete. You stand stronger because you have not let injustice defeat you.
You stand stronger because you are now more capable of receiving the other back into your life, if he or she can be trusted. You may play a part in this person’s positively changed ways as you stand strong.
You stand stronger because you know you have a way of meeting the next injustice, and the next, and the next after that.
Having a new heart as a result of forgiving and becoming stronger and helping others get stronger is a cause for joy.
It is common in close relationships that both people may have to forgive the other at the same time. There is nothing wrong with this. A key is this: Please keep in mind that each of you may be at a different point in the forgiveness process. For example, you may be very ready to forgive her, but she is still too angry to consider forgiving you. In a situation like this, I recommend that you go as deeply as you can in forgiving her and, at the same time, apologize to your sister for “dumping” your anger onto her. Your apologizing may aid her process of forgiving.
Is it possible that we might change in a negative way when others withdraw love from us? Consider three issues, which might form a digression in our very selves.
- In the first scenario, we can begin to withdraw a sense of worth toward the one who hurt us. The conclusion is that he or she is worthless.
- In the second scenario, over time, we can drift into the dangerous conclusion, “I, too, am worthless.” After all, others have withdrawn love from me and have concluded that I lack worth, therefore I do lack worth. Here is where our own self-esteem is lowered because another or others are being unkind to us.
- In the third scenario, and even later down the road, we can drift into the unhealthy conclusion that there is no love in the world and so no one really has any worth, thus everyone is worthless. It is here that we might settle into a pervasive pessimism, without even realizing it is happening.
This three-layer development of negativism toward the other, dislike of self, and pessimism in general can be overcome by being vigilant in forgiving. Forgiving another can reverse negative judgements about the one who hurt us, can be a safe-guard in preserving self-esteem, and can prevent a drift into negativism. Perseverance in forgiveness, then, is necessary.
The best you can do right now is to unconditionally love your friend. Her internal wounds are too new for her to talk. Being there as a support for her, even if she says nothing, may increase her trust. When she is ready, she will talk with you.
Actually, no, revenge-seeking and forgiving are entirely different. Even if they lead to a similar inner conclusion, we have to remember that the outward conclusion is radically different for revenge and forgiving. In getting revenge, the person may receive retaliation from the other, in which case the “feel good” scenario melts away. In forgiving, the person who gives love may receive love back. Even if this does not happen, at least the other person’s quest for retaliation may not be present any longer. We cannot confuse revenge and forgiving by focusing on outcomes only. As one final thought, the “feel good” experience in revenge might be very short-lived. Revenge does not necessarily lead to a cure for resentment, but only a temporary reprieve from it.
When you find meaning in your life and in the suffering that you endured you are not doing any of the following:
You are not denying anger, grief, or disappointment because of what happened to you. It did happen and your negative response is what we all go through. To find meaning is not to put the pillow over your head and hope the pain goes away.
When you find meaning you are not playing games wit25h yourself by saying, “Oh well, I can just make the best of what happened to me.” Yes, you can make the best of what happened, but if this is your meaning in what you have suffered, you are not going after that woundedness inside of you. The “oh, well” approach is so passive. We need a more active approach to the pain.
When you find meaning you do not sugar-coat the injustice and distort reality by saying, “All things happen for good reasons and so I will try to see the good in what was done to me.” Let us be honest: Maybe there was not any good in the injustice itself. What you learn from it will have goodness, but the event itself? Maybe you will find no good in that injustice against you and that is all right.
You do not want to pressure Margie into forgiving. At the same time, you do not necessarily want to ignore your friend who could be better off psychologically by considering forgiveness. I recommend that you be aware of Margie’s inner pain. When she expresses that pain (as fatigue or bodily tensions or deep anger), you could focus on that pain and ask her if she has a way of reducing or eliminating that pain. If she has no effect strategies in mind, it is then that you might consider suggesting forgiving as a way to get rid of the pain. I have found that pain is a great motivator toward healing and forgiving is one path to that healing.