- Mental Health
Forgiving Is For Living
Thinking of forgiving?
Who benefits when someone truly forgives, and the forgiveness is accepted?
A youth was cruelly assaulted with a cat-o'-nine-tails by his drunken father and woke in a pool of his own blood. He did what anyone might do, he left home and for years upheld his pledge to himself, to never speak to his father again.
As a grown man, there remained scars on his back which were deep enough that you could put the blade of your hand into them. If he didn't actually hate his father for what his father had done, his hostile feelings toward his father nonetheless ran deep and strong.
Despite significant success in the rest of his life, he reached his middle adult years in deteriorating health which doctors and all their tests did not satisfactorily diagnose. He was dying.
A friend he respected was called to his bedside for a last goodbye, and the result of their meeting was a return to vibrant health, and a return to his former professional productivity, in fact to leading in his Fortune 500 company's national sales.
What happened to turn things around? Forgiveness happened.
The friend he respected had guessed at his undiagnosed illness, had guessed at what was literally "eating" this man alive, and had asked him if there was anyone he needed to forgive.
The sick man, whose wife was in the other room preparing his burial clothes, showed his visitor his scars and recounted his lifelong hurt and resentment of his father. By inspiration his respected friend asked, "Do you know where your father is now?" Then told the sick man to verify a current address for his father and go to meet the father several states away and forgive him. He was not to go there to elicit his father's apology.
Incredulous, but willing to try anything within his own ability to restore his health, the man and his wife drove to the father's address. The man approached the door with good intent, knocked, and (after introducing himself as the man's son) was greeted gruffly with, "Well, what do YOU want!" He told his father that he had simply come with love to honestly forgive him. The old man's stern facade crumbled and they embraced in a sincere, mutual embrace that put their mutual bitterness behind them in the days that followed.
Truly, forgiving is for living.
Who pays the price for such bitterness and its consequences? In that particular case, both the father and the son (and, in all probability everyone around them.)
Forgiving others is so central to deep religious beliefs, that it is in The Lord's Prayer as taught to his disciples by Jesus. In another teaching moment, Christ taught that those who cannot forgive, will not be forgiven. Christians easily recall that Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother's sins against Peter "seventy times seven" times.
In the teachings of the Buddha forgiveness is not expressed only in one's need to somehow deal with the presumed perpetrator, but rather the need to deal with oneself to free oneself from the feelings within, which are an obstacle to progress and the ultimate goal of personal perfection.
In the Muslim teachings the Muslim transgressor transgresses out of ignorance of the will of God and is to be forgiven and pitied for their ignorance and imperfection.
How do you get forgiven? How do the offended and the offender benefit? Are there events and circumstances which are never forgivable? Is the most difficult forgiveness the forgiveness you struggle to give yourself? Do you find it easier to forgive your own children than to forgive the neighbor's children?
Americans are notable for their forgiveness of former enemies such as Japan and Germany, while finding it difficult to forgive an undefeated Castro's Cuba. Understanding that difference is something well-explored, but as yet unresolved. Alcoholics Anonymous finds a place for forgiveness in that program.
Religions, as mentioned before, place importance on forgiveness. It is considered essential in repentance, the need for forgiveness is central in the confessional, and, if failing to forgive is a free ticket to hell, forgiving is indeed a key to living. Keeping track of the 490 times to forgive his brother probably did not bother Peter, he seemed to understand after Christ apparently forgave him three times, or more.
Some of us seem to think that "God is not big enough to forgive me." And, even accepting forgiveness is not always as immediate and as complete as it was in lives of the cruel, drunken father and his abused son.
If the person seeking to forgive another is rebuffed, he is likely to find it more difficult to forgive someone else in the future, and especially difficult to complete the forgiveness he had attempted.
That suggests the following question: when is forgiveness complete?
We might feel we have truly forgiven someone, but does the memory of the original event persist, and even bother the forgiver and the forgiven? When indeed is the forgiveness complete?
Can friendship prevail in the face of something that calls for forgiveness? Much of marriage counseling is centered on forgiveness. Forgiveness in the work place is seemingly fraught with its own unusual difficulties.
I wish I could suggest an infallible plan for forgiving and accepting forgiveness, but in all likelihood it has to be uniquely individual in order to be sincere.
Is there someone you and I need to forgive? Let's just do it....whatever it takes.
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