Pope John Paul II said, “Forgiveness is above all a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil.” Forgiveness is truly not an easy choice to make, but it is the healthy one. Harboring hurt and pain in your emotional corral will cause you to be unhealthy and unhappy. When you do not forgive others, you become so worried about making sure the offending parties do not have peace and happiness that you end up destroying any chances of having peace and happiness in yourself. I believe in the power of forgiveness.
I was privileged to attend a lecture by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr at Spalding University in 1998. Father Rohr spoke about many things, but one thing stuck out as a bright beacon in my mind. He spoke about “lack of forgiveness” as being similar to a prison. When you do not forgive others, you become a warden at this prison. You wake up every morning to make sure that the offending party is in prison as you stew over their offenses. You lock the door repeatedly to make sure that the one who has hurt you stays there and does not escape. You even take to sleeping there occasionally on those nights when you think that he or she may escape their incarceration. This is not a way to live fully and happily because what is a warden except someone that cannot leave the prison? It doesn’t matter if you are inside or outside the jail cell, you still cannot leave when you have a criminal to look after. Who is more the prisoner, the unforgiving warden or the offending prisoner?
One of the most striking moments in my life was a moment of unlocking the prison doors for the party that had offended me. When I was a high school senior, I was provided the opportunity to attend a senior retreat, several days of reflection over where you had been and where you were going. One of my most feared tormentors, or bully if you will, was attending the same retreat weekend. I was nervous and apprehensive going into the experience. My mother told me that there was a reason that this offending party and I were on the same retreat. She was absolutely correct. I felt a nagging notion that I had to confront this person and let them know that they had hurt me for almost four years now. I had to at least stand up for myself and let him know that I knew my worth as an individual. Not only did I work up the courage to forgive him for everything he had done over my four formative years of high school, but he came halfway and asked my forgiveness first! As a person of faith, I have to believe that God truly did orchestrate that whole encounter. I left the retreat with a feeling that I was cleansed, renewed, reborn, and refreshed! I could finally let go of the hurt (emotionally and physically) and begin my life again. Thankfully, it was not too late to enjoy the final moments of my senior year in 1995.
Forgiveness is performed not so much for the benefit of the offending party, but for the offended party. We unlock the prison gates and walk away; it is the offending party’s decision whether or not to walk out the door. We “shake the dust from our feet” and move on to the next challenge in life.
Remember that forgiving does not mean you forget the offense, but you are able to move yourself past it for your own good. So, the next time you feel the urge to hold onto an offense, lording it over the other person, remember to let it go and forgive for the sake of your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
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