The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
– Mahatma Gandhi
Let’s face it. With all the demands and challenges in our lives – making ends meet, maintaining a household, getting kids to a myriad of activities, community obligations, and trying to find a little time for ourselves – we could all use a little more power in our lives. One of the most untapped sources of personal power is forgiveness. Huh? Yes, that’s right, forgiveness. We’ve been taught that forgiveness is a virtue, but how many of us make it a regular practice in our lives?
Forgiveness is not just a virtue, it is a choice. Choosing to forgive leads us to better health, increased optimism, and richer relationships. That isn’t just my opinion; it is backed by a growing body of research. How cool is that? Wouldn’t you like to be healthier, happier, and have awesome relationships? If you answered ‘no’ please go see a professional about that.
I will assume you answered ‘yes.’ Sweet! Now, even though we may know the importance of forgiveness, we still don’t do it. We allow pride, fear, resentment, vindictiveness or anger to swallow hope. Hope is what allows us to move forward in life. Without hope for a better future, we feel no need to forgive. Take back hope and use these ten steps to help you harness the power of forgiveness.
- Optional – Thump yourself in the head. Sometimes we get so caught up in our wallowing that we just need to give ourselves a little thump on the forehead to snap out of it. If you need it, do it. (Be gentle; don’t thump yourself in the head so hard that you forget why you thumped yourself in the first place.)
- Know what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is to pardon an offense, let go of blame for past hurt and move on with life.
- Know what forgiveness isn’t. Forgiveness is not condoning wrong or allowing harmful behavior. It is also not forgetting. Author Lewis B. Smedes explained, “Forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
- Commit to let go of the pain. Failing to forgive magnifies the pain. Pain, disappointment, and injustice influence every aspect of life. The longer we hold on to it, the deeper it plants itself. Make the decision to let go of the pain.
- Take ownership of your feelings. We are responsible for our own reactions to the actions of others. Taking responsibility for our own feelings allows us to take control of our lives. We can’t control what others do or what may happen to us, but we can control how we respond to it.
- Seek humility. Humility? Yep. Humility is the opposite of pride. So very often we fail to forgive due to our own foolish pride. Pride places blame and responsibility on others (which undermines the previous step), giving them, not you, control.
- Cultivate gratitude. Did you know that the ability to feel and express gratitude has been identified as a powerful factor in individual resilience (the ability to bounce back from stuff)? Focusing on things you are thankful for focuses your attention on positive rather than negative things in your life. This in turn helps you to let go of hurt and move forward in life.
- Be patient. Forgiveness can take time. Don’t expect to be able to do it overnight, you may be sorely disappointed. I read once this counsel, “Keep a place in your heart for forgiveness, and when it comes, welcome it in.” Give yourself some time. As long as you are making the effort it will eventually come.
- Live today. You can’t change the past. Dwelling there, particularly on past wrongs, can really suck. It keeps you from living the life you want and deserve now. Focus your energy on what you are doing with your life today.
- Let go. Let it out. It may be helpful to write it down, or to talk to someone who can be patient, understanding and supportive. If you need to, seek professional help. Let it out and then let it go. Set it free in the wind, drop kick it over the moon, flush it down the drain, whatever you need to do to symbolically and emotionally let it go.