Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Freedom of Forgiveness

"A New Day Dawns"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

I remember a conversation I once had with someone who had been seriously betrayed by a close friend whom she thought she could trust. The person told me that she doubted her one-time friend would ever apologize to her and so she’d probably never be able to forgive her.

I clearly remember what that person said about forgiving because it was so emblematic of how most people misunderstand what forgiveness is all about. More often than not we confuse forgiveness with reconciliation and the two processes are not the same.

It takes at least two people to reconcile but it only takes one person to forgive.

In order for people to be reconciled, they must encounter one another and admit faults, apologize, sometimes vow to make amends, and then they are reconciled.  But to forgive someone we simply “let go” of the burden of our resentment, anger or pain that we hold against the other so that it doesn’t eat away at us.

The Buddha said:
Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal
with the intent of throwing it at someone else.
You are the one who gest burned.

When asked by his disciples about how often they should forgive others, Jesus tells them to forgive “not 7 times but 70 x7 times.” In other words, forgive without limits, never hold back forgiveness.  It’s also interesting to me that the great wisdom of most all world religious traditions teach the same thing: unlimited “forgiveness” is prized as a core virtue for the spiritual path. After all, a spiritual journey should lead us to greater peace and we can never find that greater peace if we are unwilling to “forgive” those who do us wrong.

We human beings inevitably hurt one another and cause each other pain; but what we do with this pain makes all the difference in the world. If we cling to the anger and the pain, keep grudges, seek revenge, the pain becomes a poison that infects and destroys our spirit. Forgiveness is the process of letting go of that pain and when we “let go” we are set free.

Nelson Mandela was locked away in a South African prison cell for many years. He hated his captors and vowed revenge when he was set free. Then one day, Mr. Mandela realized that his resentment was the cause of his greatest suffering, his resentment was keeping him in prison more than the iron bars that confined him. So, in his heart he forgave his captors and prayed for their well-being. He didn’t excuse their behavior, he never expected to be reconciled with them, he simply “forgave” them and in doing so he was set free.

In one of this journals, Mandela wrote

Resentment is like drinking poison
and hoping it will kill your enemies.

Most of us can readily remember the “wrongs” done to us over the years and we often live our lives with those “wrongs” filed away someplace deep within our hearts.  Today, as I ponder the freedom offered by “forgiveness,” I refuse to hold onto the memory of past injuries or to harbor them in my heart as if clinging to those memories might somehow punish past offenders.

This morning as the sun rises, I conjure up the images of those who may have injured me and deep in my heart I say “I forgive you”

Free at last!

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