Monday, February 21, 2011

A Season For Nonviolence Reflections - Week 4

"Forgive, forget. Bear with the faults of others as you would have them bear with yours. Be patient and understanding. Life is too short to be vengeful or malicious." - Phillips Brooks

It is not easy to forgive others. Sometimes people say they have forgiven someone but when they start talking about the person they begin to criticize or judge the other person. I have found that many times there is a disconnect about what forgiveness really means. There are some myths about forgiveness that need to be dispelled.

Forgiveness is simply about letting go of our resentment towards others. It is for our own benefit that we forgive others. It does not mean we have to reconcile or say that what the individual did was okay. When we let go of our resentment towards others we feel free from pain and released from this person having any power over us. When we don't forgive we suffer. The resentment may affect our health, our state of mind, how we treat others, and lead to disharmony in our soul.

The Myths About Forgiveness
One myth is that by forgiving someone we imply that it was okay for that person to treat us the way they did. This is not what forgiveness implies. Forgiveness simply means letting go of our resentment towards another. We do not state that what they did was okay. Instead we acknowledge what they did was wrong or did not serve life and we choose to let go of our resentment. When we hang on to our resentment we give away our power. The event or person still can stimulate pain in us.

Another myth is that forgiveness opens us to being hurt again. But forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. There are two different things. We can forgive others and never talk to them again if we so choose. We can let go of our resentment and set boundaries so that we do not get hurt by others.

Occasionally, if the situation is appropriate forgiveness can lead to reconciliation. We can choose reconciliation. But this is our choice.

And one more myth is that if we forgive others they will not grow as individuals. There is a belief that these individuals need to be punished or hurt. When we punish others or hurt them they usually become resentful and dislike us. It does not motivate them to make amends and if it does it is out of fear and not because they sincerely have remorse.

Forgiveness And Loving Our Enemies
When Jesus was crucified to the cross over 2000 years ago he cried out to God, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." He was referring to those who put him on the cross. Jesus chose to let go of any resentment and to love his enemies. He actually hoped that they would some day realize that by his sacrifice on the cross they could have a relationship with God.

It is this example that Martin Luther King Jr. followed as he led the civil rights movement. He writes in his book Strength to Love, "To our most bitter opponents we say: 'We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.

"Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."

The Power Of Empathy
King not only let go of resentment but empathized with his oppressors. This is the key to loving our enemies. When resentment is gone we can empathize with others. We can see that they have learned some unhealthy beliefs and strategies and are attempting in their own tragic way to meet their needs. King hoped that he could touch the hearts and minds of his opponents with love and forgiveness so that he could in the process be reconciled to them. He took into action forgiveness and love and applied them to a social change movement.

He writes of his inspiration, " Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force, so beautifully exemplified in the life of our Christ, is the most potent instrument available in mankind's quest for peace and security."

May we not be misled about what forgiveness means and instead offer forgiveness to others. May we also be able to empathize with those who have hurt us - realizing that all individuals are doing the best they can with what they have learned. May we have opportunities to love our enemies and open the door to seeing the miraculous happen. May we dream as King did and change our world in the process.

Related Articles:
The Five Steps to Forgiveness
Overcoming Guilt

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