The act of forgiveness is tricky, regardless of whether you’re asking to be forgiven or forgiving another. Typically, just the thought of it brings up a myriad of conflicting emotions around the person who has harmed us: anger, hurt, sadness, remorse, resentment, hopefulness, and even caring. Yes, I said caring. After all, we probably wouldn’t feel so angry and/or hurt if there wasn’t a level of love, or at least caring, in the past. Paradoxically, the outcome of forgiveness is self-serving. We become free from the toxicity of resentment that blocks our growth and limits our joy.
Choosing the right time to work on forgiveness is also tough. During or immediately after an incident is usually too soon as the wounds are fresh and our motive questionable. On the other hand, if we wait too long, the desire, effort and courage it takes to grant forgiveness dwindles even though the energy it consumes typically remains. That is, even if we are not fully aware of our hurt feelings on the surface, underlying resentment can keep us frozen in time and harden our heart.
People who celebrate the Jewish High Holidays are fortunate to have a built in tradition of forgiveness. There are 10 days, referred to as the Days of Awe, between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) dedicated to the process of forgiveness. It is customary to use these ten days as a time for deep reflection of one’s actions over the past year and to directly contact people you may have harmed in order to ask their forgiveness. To be honest, my mood during the days of awe is pretty somber even though I’m grateful for the designated time to work on healing my heart and mind and mending relationships.
You don’t have to have a structured tradition to practice forgiveness. But you do have to have courage and a commitment to your own freedom. And when you have that, anytime is the right time.
I encourage you to dedicate a period of time – whether it’s one large block of time, or perhaps 15 minutes a day – to focus on practicing forgiveness. Explore what is holding you back. Is there secondary gain (an unspoken value in staying hurt and angry)? Do you feel powerful when you hold the resentment? Is staying in blame enabling you to avoid feeling underlying feelings? And, what might you need in order to move forward?
Remember this very important consideration: forgiveness doesn’t mean accepting or condoning the behavior of that person (or even being friends with them again). It’s about forgiving the person, not what they did. Forgiveness is for you. It enables you to release the toxicity of resentment and to live a fuller, richer life.
In the words of Neal Walsh ”You Keep Forgetting. But life is not “For Getting.” Life is For Giving.” And in order to do that, you need to be forgiving of others – especially those who did not give you what you thought you were going to get! Life is about creating the highest quality of giving, not the highest quality of getting. (Conversations with G-d, by Neal Walsh)