How to Forgive
Fr. Mike Sis
(published April 1999, Bryan Eagle)
One of the most crippling attitudes in the human heart is the refusal to forgive. When we say, "I cannot forgive," we hurt no one more than ourselves. When we refuse to forgive, we allow unresolved anger, hatred and bitterness to sap our emotional, mental and spiritual energy.
When we Christians pray to God, we say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." This means, of course, that if we refuse to forgive, we're asking for some serious trouble.
One of the main reasons we don't forgive is that we don't quite understand what it means to forgive. Forgiveness comes so much more easily when we realize what it is, and what it is not.
Forgiveness is not a denial that you have been hurt or harmed. It does not mean that it's OK what the offender did to you. If there had been no harm done, there would be nothing to forgive. Forgiveness does not mean tolerating wrongdoing or allowing an injustice to continue.
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean that you will totally forget the hurtful event, nor does it mean that you must continue to be the offender's friend. You might need to keep a safe distance.
Forgiveness does not mean that you have to have warm, fuzzy feelings toward the offender. To forgive is essentially an act of the will, not the emotions.
When the complex task of forgiveness seems too difficult, it will come much more easily if you follow a step-by-step process. Here is a basic model for a process of forgiveness, based on Sacred Scripture, Christian spirituality and the social sciences:
Ask for God's help and healing throughout the process. Never underestimate the power of God's grace.
Be willing eventually to let go of your unforgiving stance.
Recognize that you have been harmed.
Acknowledge and accept your feelings about what happened.
Think clearly about who in the situation bears responsibility for what. In fairness, you should not take the blame for someone else's wrongdoing.
Develop a more realistic view of yourself and the offender.
Make a decision of your will, to choose to forgive the offender. In some cases this is a decision that needs to be made repeatedly in order to become complete.
Don't expect the offender to respond in a particular way to your act of forgiveness.
Place the offender in the hands of God, trusting that God will ultimately deal with him or her according to God's justice and mercy. You yourself don't need to keep "punishing" him or her.
Allow plenty of time for your feelings to catch up with the decision of your will. Some hurts will require more time even for your decision to forgive to take place.
Let go of the past, choose to live in the present and go forward.
Choose what will now be the nature of your relationship with the offender.
By taking steps like these, you can resolve any bitterness or resentment. No matter how deeply you were hurt, you really can forgive.