Over the years I have collected funeral cards as I grieved the loss of family and friends. In remembrance of them, I’ve noted a positive attribute or characteristic that they had displayed, and I use it as a means of reflection and growth on my personal journey.
Three cards with core principles are a constant reminder of the attributes I strive to emulate: faith, generosity and forgiveness.
After working in the counseling/helping profession for more than 40 years, I recognize a core set of issues/problems people struggle with daily. At the top of this list is difficulty with relationships, and particularly unforgiveness.
The funeral card that is prominently displayed on my car console speaks to the need to forgive others. While forgiveness means different things to different people, it generally involves a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or excusing the harm done or resolving the issue with the offender. It is the act of deciding to let go of the pain, drop the grudge and end the destruction of an attitude of bitterness.
Unforgiveness is toxic; it has the potential to poison future relationships, destroy self-worth, and damage emotional and physical health. Holding on to hurt and anger harms us far more than it harms the offender.
The act of forgiveness may seem difficult to do, but it is valuable to our growth and happiness. Forgiveness is a skill that needs to be built into relationships. By setting clear, concrete and consistent boundaries, you establish the foundation of a relationship so that hurt, anger and conflict can be addressed.
Here are steps to help employ the skills of forgiveness:
• Timing: Take time to process your feelings. Don’t over-react, and also consider timing with regard to the other person.
• Intentional: State that you are choosing to forgive.
• “I” statements: Understand your own feelings and express them appropriately by taking ownership of them.
• Empathy: Try to understand the other person’s position; understanding does not mean condoning.
• Real: Admit your own part in the situation and forgive yourself for what you did or did not do in the relationship.
• Set: New boundaries and expectations.
• Recognize: That the person may not want to reconcile and understand that even without reconciliation, you can forgive.
• Done: Leave the hurt in the past and move on.
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a middleweight boxer who served more than 22 years in prison after he was wrongly convicted of three murders in the mid-1960s, said, “If I have learned nothing else in my life, I’ve learned that bitterness only consumes the vessel that contains it; and for me to permit bitterness to control or to infect my life in any way whatsoever, would be to allow those who imprisoned me to take even more than the 22 years they’ve already taken. Now that would make me an accomplice to their crime.”
The act of forgiveness frees the soul from bondage. Act now.