A 30-Day Challenge: The Art of Forgiveness

Each month, when I sit down to write this column, I pull out a list of virtues and attributes I made when I began writing it a year ago in order to choose a topic. For August, I had planned to write about change, or maybe diligence (to coincide with the start of the school year). However, I feel a very strong urge to write about forgiveness. Whatever the reason, I’m even breaking away from my general format of starting this column with a quote, in order to explain the purpose of this month’s topic.

We’ve all heard the old saying, “I may forgive, but I don’t forget.” If you are of the Christian faith, you know that the Bible teaches that when we ask for forgiveness, God both forgives and forgets. I’m certainly not a scholar of other beliefs, but forgiveness is a virtue taught by most faiths, Christian and otherwise. Of course, mankind lacks that higher power for perfect forgiveness, but if we stroll through life with the mindset of “forgive-but-don’t-forget,” are we really offering those around us forgiveness? Moreover, are we hurting ourselves in the long term?

Marlene Dietrich said, “Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.” Perfectly stated. Often, we may forgive a wrongdoing, yet continually remind the person who hurts us of their sin against us. Is that really forgiveness? Or is it a power-play? An opportunity to one-up someone who hurt us or betrayed us?

Am I guilty of it? Sure I am. I’m far from perfect. I write these monthly challenges as much for myself as I do for anyone else. I’ve also been on the receiving end when I’ve made a mistake and had my sins repeatedly thrown at me. It’s not fun. While I’ve not perfected the art of forgiving AND forgetting, I’m certainly trying. Because I want to believe that if someone I care about has wronged me, and I hang onto the memory of it every day, I’m hurting myself and never allowing that relationship to be repaired.

That’s not to say that we become a doormat and allow someone to hurt us the same way over and over again. That’s a different matter entirely.

Forgiveness is as much for ourselves as it for the person who wronged us. It’s about letting go of anger and resentment, rather than harboring them and allowing them to make us bitter. Forgiveness empowers us. While getting over a hurt or betrayal isn’t easy, consider these ideas to help you offer true forgiveness that allows you to let go and move forward:

  • Remind yourself that you’ve made mistakes, too.
  • Listen to the person who wronged you, and allow them to offer an explanation.
  • Embrace compassion and seek understanding.
  • Reflect on the past positives of your relationship with the person who wronged you, and remember that one mistake does not define him or her.
  • Write your feelings in a journal and when you’re ready to let go, burn the pages.

Finding forgiveness may take time, and depending on how you were wronged, it may take weeks, if not months, to move past. The goal, though, should be to find peace within yourself as soon as possible. The following is attributed to many different sources, but no matter who came up with it, the truth is crystal clear: “Holding on to anger is like drinking the rat poison and hoping the rat will die.” You’re only hurting yourself.