Afraid to Forgive? Rev Dr Durrell Watkins The Dalai Lama has counseled, “If a problem can be solved, rather than worrying about it, solve it. If it can’t be solved, worrying won’t help. Either way, there is no need to worry.” “Worrying is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but never […]
Afraid to Forgive?
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
The Dalai Lama has counseled, “If a problem can be solved, rather than worrying about it, solve it. If it can’t be solved, worrying won’t help. Either way, there is no need to worry.”
“Worrying is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.” Unknown
Worries: 40% – never materialize; 30% – are about the unchangeable past; 12% – are directed toward other people’s lives that we can’t do anything about; 10% – are about imagined illnesses; ONLY 8% of all worries are actually justified.
We are extremely resilient. When a real disaster, crisis, challenge, or threat comes along, we handle it. We find we can face it. We find strength and dignity and wisdom we didn’t know we possessed. It’s worrying about what could go wrong, what others might be thinking, about the past event that can’t be changed, or the future thing that may never occur that makes us miserable. The fear of getting bad news can be emotionally paralyzing, but once it is actually in front us, we often are able to summon the courage to face it and being to chip away at it.
Only 8% of our worries are really justified, and you know what, we can handle most of those! (Especially when we are part of a supportive, spiritual community).
Why all this talk about fear, worry, anxiety?
Fear is always relevant to whatever the topic at hand is. But, it is also related very specifically to forgiveness.
Why is it so hard to forgive?
We can’t forgive others sometimes because we are AFRAID that forgiveness lets them off the hook, and we want them on the hook, dangling like a side of beef! We are afraid they won’t ever be sorry for hurting us, they won’t ever pay for making us sad, and we are afraid that if there isn’t some justice, some righting of the wrong, then we will never be free, never be whole. We are afraid to forgive because we think our anger or our hatred or our resentment is somehow keeping us safe. But it isn’t, is it?
Anger is natural enough; it’s a human emotion. But it isn’t meant to be sustained indefinitely. If we can’t move through it, it just eats us up; it destroys us. Our fear is that if we aren’t angry we are shortchanging ourselves, but the truth is, if we can’t work through the anger and eventually let it go, or at least use it in a positive way that will lead to healing down the road, then that anger is just a toxic substance in our soul and it can ruin our relationships, our careers, our happiness, and even our health.
We need to remind ourselves that Forgiveness is releasing the hurt; it isn’t approving of the hurtful deed. It’s moving through the anger rather than allowing the anger to consume us.
And sometimes we need to forgive ourselves. We are so afraid that we don’t deserve to be free of the regret of a past mistake that we hold on to the guilt, the shame, the pain as if it were a precious treasure. But continuously punishing ourselves doesn’t fix the mistake and it doesn’t add joy to our lives or anyone else’s.
When we forgive ourselves, we aren’t saying that we did what was best; we’re saying we are determined to do better from now on.
Whether we are forgiving individuals, institutions, or ourselves, the forgiveness is simply about our healing.
I was angry for a very long time that our government in the 80s didn’t respond for many years to the AIDS crisis. They should have. But I can hate that administration until my dying day and it won’t change the past. Some of us were angry about the lives lost in the 2nd Iraq conflict, not believing that to be a just war. I, for one, believe that just wars are extremely rare; I’m not sure there’s been one in my lifetime. We are angry with churches that terrorized us with stories of afterlife torture, that rejected us because we were gay, or that refused to allow women to pursue ministry. Some of us have families that were abusive, former spouses who were unfaithful, friends who betrayed us, work places that proved unsafe or unreliable, or we even are angry with ourselves for choices we’ve made or opportunities we passed up. At some point, we have to decide we’ll never have a better past, but do deserve a better future, and that means releasing the past to the past, loving ourselves, and moving forward.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Nelson Mandela
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” Anne Lamott
If forgiveness can restore a relationship, great. If it would be unsafe or unwise or even unjust to maintain the relationship without it changing dramatically, then the point of forgiveness isn’t to save the relationship, but to save our sanity, and to save our joy which a dysfunctional relationship might have tarnished.
When the person we believe wronged us seeks forgiveness, that is usually when the relationship can be mended. If they don’t seek it, forgive anyway, but unsought forgiveness need not come with unearned trust.
“Never rejoice when an enemy falls; but also don’t rush to help them up.“ (Jewish saying)
“Forgive your enemies, but remember their names.” JFK
That’s the paradox of being cunning as serpents and as gentle as doves (Jesus, Matthew 10.16)
Forgiveness isn’t staying in a damaging situation and it isn’t giving someone permission to be cruel, dishonest, or manipulative. Forgiveness is healing…I forgive myself for being in this mess, for staying too long, for contributing in whatever way I have, and I forgive you as well. And now that we are forgiven, it’s time for a new day, a new beginning, and that may mean that I will choose to not put myself in the position for these old hurts to happen again. I forgive you and I release you. Our paths may not cross again, but that also means you won’t be living rent free in my head anymore. I forgive, I release, I allow healing to happen, and if I see you within 100 feet of me I will lovingly and joyfully call the police to inform them you have violated your restraining order.
To forgive just means to stop feeling resentful. That’s all.
The more I focus on injury, the more constantly injured I feel. To release the resentment frees me.
Now, sometimes people will ask, “HOW do we forgive, especially that which seems so unforgivable?”
“I guess forgiveness, like happiness, isn’t a final destination. You don’t one day get there and get to stay.” Deb Caletti (novelist)
Forgiveness is sometimes a process…when working to forgive the unforgivable, my prayer has been, “God, I am willing, at least in this moment, to forgive.”
A Course in Miracles says a little willingness is all that is needed for a miracle. If I can summon the courage to affirm a little willingness, then I can offer that to God and trust God to use that willingness to help me heal. So far, it has always worked. Not always instantly, and sometimes I find I have forgiven partially but have more forgiveness work to do, but the prayer, “God, I am willing, at least in this moment, to forgive” seems to set forces in motions that eventually will set me free.
Finally, what about God’s forgiveness.
We’ve all seen the meme, “I prayed for a bicycle, but then I realized that’s not how God works; so I stole a bicycle and prayed for forgiveness.”
Of course, bike theft isn’t a sin against God; it’s a sin against the rightful bike owner. Return the bike you little hoodlum!
We pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” How do we know when God has forgiven us? I have got good news for you! It is so good that some people will think it’s too good to be true. But listen carefully.
God isn’t angry with you or with me…but our anger can keep us from experiencing God’s joy…so, we pray “forgive us as we forgive” to remind ourselves that our letting go of old hurts helps us experience divine joy more abundantly. It’s a reminder that divine Love never condemns.
For God to know sin, see sin, be aware of sin, God would have to experience it. If God is perfect, and perfect love at that, then God has no idea what sin is! God isn’t judging us; but our judgments keep us from being aware of God’s all embracing omnipresence.
Forgiveness is us removing our self-imposed blocks to divinity. On God’s side of things, all is well, always has been, always will be. God still looks at all of creation and all God sees is that it is, at is has always been, very good (Gen 1.31).
Most of us are doing our best according the Light that we have in the moment. If we learn from our mistakes and move forward, we experience healing and feel free. We can’t hurt God, and God can’t reject us. We are part of God and the omnipresence will not, cannot let us go.
Forgive 77 times? That’s not about record keeping. That just means it’s a process and as long as we are committed to the process we will continue to experience healing in our lives.
Don’t be afraid to forgive yourself. You can’t fix the past but you can be free from it.
Don’t be afraid to forgive others. It isn’t condoning bad behavior; it’s refusing to allow past wrongs to destroy your happiness now. And forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean trust, so it really is safe to forgive; you can forgive without inviting an unsafe character back into your life.
And don’t be afraid that God is keeping score. God is Love, and according to the Apostle Paul, “…Love is not easily angered and it keeps NO RECORD of wrongs” (1 Cor 13.5). And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
I am willing…
at least in this moment,
to release all hurts,
real or imagined.
I reclaim my joy today.
And so it is.