My personal stories on how we can embrace the power of forgiveness to transform past hurts.
I remember one night, I was sitting at a bar with some family members, enjoying the holiday season here in France and an out of season pina colada.
Of course, when one is around family they don’t normally see or talk to throughout the year, the airing of grievances is inevitable. I was talking to a couple who, for the last eight years, held a gigantic grudge over some family business that occurred many, many years ago that had little to do with them and nothing to do with the present world we live in. It was shocking for me to see two full grown adults get so worked up about something that happened so long ago and how, this knowledge, kept them from moving on with their lives. They asked me in all earnestness why I wasn’t upset by this “scandale” and how I could see the family members involved in such a positive light. My question to them was, “How can I not? And, what does your bad memory have to do with me?”
It’s amazing how we hold onto grudges and hurts that have long since past. We relive these memories, replaying the pain over and over again to try to make sense of it all in order to move on. That’s the thing about holding onto grudges, we give control of our thoughts and emotions over to a figment of our imagination; a ghost that has long since left our reality. No wonder they say that bad memories from the past can “haunt” us.
Not only do we hold onto past pains and offenses, we tend to pull other people into our pain, to get them to see what was so wrong and so hurtful. They want us to agree and be angry with them so that they feel they are not alone in their misery and justified in their resentful behavior.
I suggested to these family members that they just forgive. To take back the control they’ve given to their pain and let the memory that comes with it to go. It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when we feel we’re not the offending party. They definitely cocked their heads in confusion to that, perhaps believing that this is a passive way of giving up against wrong doing.
“If I forgive them,” one thinks, “Then they have won! They’ve gotten away scott-free!”
Not so fast! Here’s another story:
I remember when I was a young girl, I had a crush on a boy who treated me so rudely. I remember crying to my mom, recounting the mean things he said and did to me. She told me to let go of the pain and to forgive, to hope that one day he’ll see the error of his ways on his own and come to understand my pain. Three years later, when I blossomed into a young woman, this old crush approached me and asked for my forgiveness, confessing how silly and wrong he was to have treated me the way he did. I was glad he did it, but by then I almost thought it was unnecessary because I had long since forgiven him by then.
I learned that day that the power of forgiveness produces results. Long before he ever apologized, I regained control over my own feelings, saw the situation and the person more compassionately, and decided to move on. It’s hard sometimes to forgive the nasty things people do and say against us, but there is something redemptive about forgiving those who inflict us with pain. When we forgive, we stop a cycle of pain. We choose, right then and there, not to continue the hurt by continuing it within ourselves and transferring that pain to others.
I’m not going to lie, it takes a great degree of self-discipline, meditation, and prayer. Sometimes, when I’m feeling sad about a past hurt, I pray for the person. I ask in gratefulness that this person draws closer to God, or as some would like to call it “the Infinite Source”, because in doing so, they will become enlightened, see how their actions hurt me and others, and stop the cycle for themselves. Some call this grace, some call it goodwill. Whatever it is, it’s choosing a higher road. Afterward, I always feel better for actively deciding to love the person and turn away hate and pain.
When I said earlier how we are tempted to replay the pain over and over again, hoping to make sense of it all (or as some of my clients tell me “understand its meaning”) in order to move on, my advice is this: don’t. Through grace and taking back the power to forgive, we can move on with what we have learned and have come to understand about ourselves. We are richer for the experience and for the knowledge that makes us stronger and wiser. Through continuing on, living our lives, we can assign a meaning to these hurts for ourselves, rather than wait from some magical dictionary to tell us what we went through actually means in the great scheme of things.
Forgiveness means power, not failure. Forgiveness means we can shake off the past and recreate a new. It means we can stop a cycle and start a new one. It means that we will let nothing stop us from happiness. It means that nobody, and I mean nobody, can control us. And, above all, forgiveness means a life of our choosing.
Have you ever been hurt in the past? How did you forgive? What happened when you did? Share your story!