Colossians 3:13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
Forgiving people is one of the main teaching from Jesus Christ. He has counselled us to forgive everyone for every offence against us. Not matter what anyone has done to us, said to us or tried to do to us, we are required by the Lord to forgive them. Now, this isn’t always easy. I know it hasn’t been for me. I’ve learned a lot over the years about how to forgive and to let go, but it was not an easy road. I still struggle to forgive people for silly things and sometimes big things. I’ve gone through a few rough things in my life and it took me a long time and some counselling before I was able to learn how to forgive and let go of the big things, and I’m still learning. The thing most people don’t tell you is that it’s a daily process. Very few people are able to just say, “Okay, I forgive you” and be done with it. Some things, yeah, like being bumped into, someone taking the last donut, a person stepping on your foot or silly stuff like that is easy. But when someone says something hurtful or does something unkind or a really heart-rending event occurs, it’s a little harder. What I’ve learned is that every time you start to feel anger or resentment or even sadness about an event or situation, you need to make a conscious effort to forgive the other person and sometimes yourself.
You may be wondering why you would need to forgive yourself and the answer is simple. Sometimes we get angry at ourselves for allowing people to treat us certain ways, for getting into certain situations, for making bad decisions, for being taken advantage of or when we fall for the lies people tell us. That was one I struggled with and still do sometimes. Someone close to me told me some very large lies and I believed them for several years. When the truth came out, I just felt so stupid for having been so naive and not seeing it sooner. I doubted myself and my ability to make good decisions. I was constantly berating myself for having been so ‘stupid’ even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. It took me a long time to learn to forgive myself and learn to trust that I could make smart decisions again. Once I began to forgive myself for that and began forgiving myself for other bad decisions in my life, I began to feel more peace in my heart and closer to Jesus Christ.
One of the other things we need to remember about forgiveness is that it is a process. It’s easy to forgive and let go of the little things, but it can be really hard to let go of the big things. We may feel like we have forgiven someone, but if we keep getting annoyed at them when we think about an event or think less of them because of whatever happened, we haven’t truly forgiven them. I’m not saying we should keep everyone in the same high esteem after they’ve done something wrong. Certain actions do have consequences in regards to trust, work evaluations, whether or not a person is reliable, etc. If someone repeatedly violates your trust, you can still forgive them while remembering not to tell them your secrets. It’s all in the way you feel about them.
Say you tell Sally that you are struggling with something and ask her not to tell anyone, but she tells Joe and Joe makes fun of you. Understandably, you’d be upset with both people and not want to trust Sally as much anymore. The key act of forgiveness here isn’t in continuing to trust Sally when you know she can’t keep a secret. The true act of forgiveness is in not being angry with her anymore. Or Joe. Joe was a bum for making fun of you, but he still deserves to be forgiven. Depending on the severity of the breach, this can be hard, but finally being able to do it is definitely worth it. Just remember that every time you feel anger, animosity or any other bad feeling towards another person to tell yourself over and over again that you forgive them. It sounds silly, but that’s something I’ve been doing and it does help.
As I’ve been sitting here thinking about this topic, I’ve been contemplating how we can facilitate forgiveness. Sure, we can’t make another person forgive us, but we certainly can make it easier for them. If you know you’ve done something that has hurt someone or upset them, go talk to them about it. Apologize. Let them know why you did it, what the misunderstanding was or whatever it was that caused the conflict. Then listen to the other person talk about how it made them feel or what their side of the event was. Being willing to listen and discuss what happened so both parties can understand what caused the conflict can help both sides forgive the other. And if someone is being unkind to you and you don’t know why, go talk to them or start being extra nice to them.
I had a girl at work several years ago who started being kinda mean to me one day and it went on for several months. At first, I just avoided her and hoped she’d stop, but then I decided I needed to do something about it. I had asked her what I’d done to offend her (because I wanted to apologize for that specific thing instead of just something general) and she said the fact that I existed offended her. I had no idea how to react to that, so I went back to trying my best to not interact with her. After a while, I remembered something my mom had told me when all of this first started. She said the best thing to do would be to “kill her with kindness”. So, eventually, I decided that I would do everything I could to help her at work and try to make her life easier. It took a few weeks, but one day she came to me and said she really appreciated my help and that she’d been super stressed about some work she was behind one, but that my help had enabled her to get caught back up. That opened up a conversation and I was able to ask her, again, what I’d done to upset her. She said she couldn’t remember and that she’d probably just been having a bad day and had gotten irritated at something stupid. We laughed about it and over the next few years of us working together, we got to be pretty good friends.
This example will not always be the result of your efforts or it may take a while, but I highly recommend treating unkind people with kindness because even if they don’t show it, they are being affected and their hearts are being softened. Plus, you will be emulating Christ by following his example of treating those who abused him with love and compassion. And it’s much easier to feel peace at someone’s unkindness when you know you aren’t doing anything to instigate it. Sometimes it can be frustrating when your efforts don’t seem to be working, but wouldn’t you rather feel the peace of your kindness towards someone than the animosity of retaliation?
Learning how to forgive myself and others and let things go has allowed such a wonderful peace to come into my life. That peace was made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It took several years to get over some of the internal turmoil I was living with, but through forgiveness and relying on Jesus Christ to help me get over those things, I have come a long way. And it was all made possible by forgiving those people who I held animosity and enmity towards, including myself.
So, you may think that forgiving people won’t do any good or that we’re condoning the wrong actions that people take, but it’s not about them. As selfish as it sounds, forgiveness is about you. When you forgive a person and let the anger you feel go, there is room for more love to come into your heart. Forgiving and letting go of that darkness allows more room for Jesus Christ and His peace in your heart. When you have hate and anger and hard feelings, those push out the gentler emotions of peace, love and charity. If you want to feel peace, if you want to find happiness in your life, forgive.
I’ve heard people say so many times, as I’ve even said as well, that forgiving people is too hard. Is it? I mean, is it really? Look at Jesus Christ. Look at the life He led and the things He went through. He was spit upon, ridiculed almost daily, faced constant attempts to be trapped through His words, beaten and then crucified. Even through all that, He forgave. ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ As He hung on the cross, Jesus Christ offered forgiveness to those who placed Him there. If He can forgive for that, what can we not forgive?