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Forgiveness: A Gift We Give Ourselves

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As we approach Easter in a few days, we are reminded that Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice for our sins by dying on the cross, offering forgiveness and grace.

Forgiveness was a gift given to us.

Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun.

To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll

Over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor

To the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are

Giving back – in more ways it is a feast fit for a king.

The chief drawback is what you are wolfing down is yourself.

The skeleton at the feast is you.”                                                                       

—Frederick Buechner
Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC
(New York: Harper & Row, 1973)

Jesus said forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). We take it as a moral imperative. But it isn’t just Jesus who tells us how important forgiveness is; science confirms it as well. In fact, not to forgive is putting a slow death sentence on ourselves, as the theologian, Frederick Buechner, so aptly describes.

Most of us deal with the sins and transgressions of others in the moment. We get mad, pull away, and then make up and go on. When we are the transgressors, we do the same. With minor goofs and slip-ups, we feel bad in the moment, apologize and then move on.

When we personalize indiscretions or offenses of others, we are setting ourselves up for the creation of a “grievance story” as detailed by Dr. Fred Luskin, in his book, Forgive for Good.

When we hang on to resentment, it becomes more toxic over time. The suggestions offered by Dr. Luskin can help us better understand how and why we are so quickly offended and what we can do to change such a trajectory.

7 ways we can make forgiveness a gift rather than an obligation

7 ways we can make forgiveness a gift rather than an obligation

  1. Don’t make “unenforceable” rules. Unenforceable rules are expectations and assumptions that everyone must follow, or we will be personally insulted and offended. Associated with such rules are the words should, must, have to and ought. When you hear yourself saying these words, ask what you are demanding from either yourself or another. How are you eliminating personal choice?
  2. Own your feelings. We blame others for how we feel. People can’t make us feel a certain way unless we allow it. We can choose other ways to respond that doesn’t involve escalating anger, ill will or hatred.
  3. An injury does not create a “grievance story” – we do. We can reframe our situations, become less critical and balance troubled times with humor.
  4. Forgiveness and reconciliation is not the same thing. Forgiving prepares the way for reconciliation – it doesn’t automatically say it will happen. Forgiveness is letting go of trying to get retribution. Forgiveness of self says I can admit when I am wrong, apologize and ask for forgiveness and stop beating myself up.
  5. Forgiveness does not mean condoning unkindness, inconsiderate or selfish behavior or excusing bad behavior. It does not deny or minimize the hurt, pain or injury done to us. It just refuses to make it into an ongoing resentment story that becomes toxic over time. We are the ones hurt by not forgiving.
  6. Coming to terms with unpleasantness in life helps us understand we are not perfect or flawless. We will make mistakes and need grace and forgiveness. Although people will hurt us, they are often unaware that they have offended us.
  7. Forgiveness is a choice. We make the conscious decision to let go of the hurts and wrongs. Forgiveness requires we first define our grievance. When we can articulate the details of the hurtful event, we will know exactly what we are forgiving. Acknowledge, accept your feelings and then make that conscious choice to forgive. Forgiving helps us from getting hurt in the future.

What unforgiveable sin is hard for you to let go of?

What is the cost of hanging on and what would be the long-term benefit for you if you chose to forgive?

Forgiveness allows me to let go of the pain and experience peace.

I choose to forgive. How about you?

Forgive for Good, by Dr. Fred Luskin, New York, New York, Harper Collins, 2002

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

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