UN-Forgiveness: The Cancer of the Soul
A PHYSICIAN'S EXPERIENCE AND INSIGHT
The following are my observations after years, as a Christian physician treating patients. Some of the key insights into a patient’s health came from introducing a simple question into my initial patient intake. The question: “What are the top three traumas in your life?” Though as an Osteopathic physician, who treats a lot of musculoskeletal problems, I expected a response to primarily relates to physical injuries. Instead, I found the answers not only gave me a much deeper insight into a person’s heart and soul but also often what was effectively tying them to the past and too often interfering with their natural healing process.
Over time I came to realize that the most important aspect of traumas patients went through had less to do with the severity of the trauma and more to do with the person’s ability to resolve it. Here I observed the key issue was forgiveness and often interfering with patients’ ability to accomplish this related to what I call the many myths of forgiveness. For without forgiveness it seemed as if the individual was stuck in a web of hate and despair unable to move forward and enjoy even the good things that their lives were still offering.
BEING STUCK IN UN-FORGIVENESS
There are many paths that can lead to UN-Forgiveness; some bigger and some smaller. While smaller issues are nagging like a constantly dripping faucet, larger issues can totally blind-side us and make us feel as if we were punched in the gut. One obvious thing I have seen over the years is that most of us are way too over-committed and have very little “breathing room” in our lives. This “lack of margin” in our lives creates underlying anxiety which renders us to be too often short-tempered and over-reactive in our responses. Take for instance “road rage” where the slightest inconvenience can cause us literally to boil over with rage at the perceived offending party. Another real possibility is that we might have traveled too far down a path of self-centeredness spiced with attitudes of elitism, irritability, and/or anger leading to episodes of rage.
The point is that some offenses are understandably real while others are more related to our personal biases. Either way, we do have the ultimate choice in how we react to “wrongs” whether real or perceived. And, either way, we are often eventually affected in a negative way much more than we might realize through personal anxiety, depression, lost friends, being estranged from loved ones, poor work performance, etc. We can feel like the “whole world is against us” isolated and alone.
The ”Good News” is there is a solution; the “Bad News” is we are the ones that need to make the effort. The answer is Forgiveness; but unfortunately, there are a number of myths in addition to one’s ego that need to be worked past and overcome. In a word, I am talking about the importance of Forgiveness. The real understandable challenge is forgiving someone close to you who repeatedly does something that you perceive as an offense. Obviously, when in any situation of harm, you need to either get help or remove yourself from contact with the offending individual. Regardless of the situation, when you are living in an “UN-Forgiveness state” it is like wishing the offending person to be poisoned and instead drinking the poison yourself.
MYTH #1: FORGIVE and Forget
How likely do you think it is to forget an offense whether perceived or real? Well, don’t feel bad because we are wired to remember things that especially affect us in a negative way. For instance, if you burn your hand on a stove then not forgetting eliminates the chance that you will repeat the same mistake. So, in a similar way, we remember perceived negative experiences so we can learn from them and adjust our behavior for better outcomes. Thus, the sage statement that “if we do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat it.” So with forgiveness, though we will still remember the offense, especially when we see or think of the offending person, each day our ill feelings can diminish to the point that we will feel no ill intent towards that person.
MYTH #2: Giving FORGIVENESS is negating the wrongdoing
It is natural to feel the necessity of someone being accountable for an offense, for them to repent, and to be compensated in some way. This feeling though can often cause one to feel that they are excusing an offense when forgiving the offender. In reality, forgiveness frees us from being the judge and rendering judgment. From a Christian perspective, there are always consequences for our wrongdoings. Some of them are more immediate like loss of trust, and some are experienced through the judicial system, but all of us are eventually accountable to God. Therefore, though we can elect to forgive the person, they are still accountable for the consequences of their actions to a higher authority.
MYTH #3: With FORGIVENESS the relationship is restored
Although we can choose to forgive someone, they might not choose to change their ways. Additionally, just because we forgive a person does not mean they have, or ever will earn our trust and respect. There is also an issue of boundaries which typically have been violated by the offending person. Such boundaries typically relate to personal space, but also have to do with being in a safe environment and/or with other people. Some individuals are untrustworthy and deserve to be restricted either by choice or legally with a restraint order.
MYTH #4: With FORGIVENESS Time Heals
Some offenses leave emotional scars that can affect a person for the rest of their life. In these cases, it is essential to work with a grief counselor or grief support group along with asking for God’s support. Life is not meant to be a lone sport; sometimes we need to care for others and sometimes we need to be cared for by others. By exercising our choice to forgive along with God and others’ caring support we can still have a thriving life. One observation I have seen many times is that God gifts us in our wounds. In other words, where we are wounded is exactly where we can help others heal through their wounds. A combination of forgiveness and helping others through their similar pain is the best guarantee to total healing.
MYTH #5: FORGIVENESS will be accepted by the Offender
It is totally natural to expect the offender to be glad to accept one’s forgiveness. The actual reality is, more often than not, the offending person does not feel they even did anything wrong. In fact, often the offending person can feel you are just overreacting to the situation. Sometimes, it can be even worse when as you attempt to offer forgiveness the offending person will react in a hostile manner. Therefore, I advise one to pray to God and get counsel from others before deciding to get together in person with someone to offer your forgiveness. When in doubt, oftentimes a better solution is to offer your forgiveness by a written note. This gives time and space for the offender to contemplate, think, and avoid any potential embarrassment by you.
MYTH #6: With FORGIVENESS the Offender will repent
This ties in with the previous myth in that the offender, more often than one would think, does not even feel they did anything wrong. Logically, if one does not think they were wrong or offensive than why and what would they repent off? This especially is seen in individuals who are very self-focused, feeling life should rotate around themselves. This type of personality will actually more predictably become hostile to someone communicating forgiveness. In fact, they will actually tend to consider the attempted resolution to be an attack on them and their highly justified values. Since God created us with free will, we possess both the freedom to forgive and also the free will to repent. I would advise to be thoughtful about such encounters and pray for God’s guidance.
Myth # 7: You need to feel FORGIVENESS to forgive
Feelings are transient and short-lived; they tend to change at a moment’s notice. They can be influenced by who you are with, your present environment, your state of health, how well you have slept, how your work day went, and on and on. That is precisely why we attempt to develop good habits, skills, and ethics to more practically and reliably deal with day-to-day issues and relationships. So essentially, forgiveness is a matter of choice, not a feeling. The good news is that as you continue to make the choice to forgive your ill feelings will gradually over time fade away.
ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO EXPRESS FORGIVENESS
There are various techniques or ways to deal with Forgiveness that relates to whether direct contact with the Offender is advisable or even if the offender is still alive. One of the most effective ways of expressing forgiveness to an offender who is likely to react in a hostile manner is unable to contact, or is not alive, is to write a “letter of Forgiveness.” This will allow you to express your feelings and give you an opportunity to express your Forgiveness in a safe manner. Some individuals find it also helpful to burn the letter as a way of literally burying and letting go of the past. Too often we tread forward day by day with a burdening heavy load of past “what ifs” and “regrets” which hold us back from looking around at all the blessings we presently do have in life. Letting go of any “ill feelings” through actively and regularly practicing Forgiveness allows us instead to live in a space of Gratitude. With Gratitude, we instead feel thankful and grateful for the many Blessings we actually have in life such as loved ones, the work we are able to do, the provisions that we are able to enjoy, and the ultimate Blessing of the life that God gave us as well as the future plans He has already planned.
WHEN FORGIVENESS FEELS OR SEEMS HUMANELY IMPOSSIBLE
Some losses and pain are just more than we can bear. So who can you turn to in such helpless and seemingly hopeless situations? The best of all options is to go to someone who has been successful with such a challenge themselves. Someone who was likewise crushed beyond measure with nowhere or no one to help yet was able to offer forgiveness (Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12). Well Jesus, is the ultimate example of forgiveness by paying the price for what we all deserve for the wrongdoings we have done to God and others. When we repent of our wrongdoings and accept His offer of salvation He will help us in a like manner to forgive others. So when we feel it is not humanely possible to forgive, then turning to Jesus, a Divine source, can make the seemingly impossible become possible.
A couple of good ways to connect with Jesus is to simply and literally cry out for His help. For those that are at a loss for words, a natural good approach is exercising the 911 option. No, I don’t mean to dial 911, but to go to and start reading Psalm 91:1 where the Lord promises to rescue and answer you in times of trouble if you call on Him. Sometimes it takes overwhelming and unbearable circumstances to look outside ourselves and cry out to God for His help in these desperate times. He promises, if you actively seek Him He will respond and answer your prayer.
WHEN WE NEED TO ASK FOR FORGIVENESS
By now I expect you have thought about times when you have been wronged. If you feel the issue has not been resolved, then working through forgiveness can help heal that wound and allow you to grow in areas you never thought possible. Equally important, is reflecting on who you might need to offer forgiveness to and possibly reconcile a broken relationship. We all will experience times to offer forgiveness and times we need to ask for forgiveness. The ultimate goal, for a blessed life, is to be proficient in both. While putting this article together a patient shared the Hawaiian prayer of forgiveness.
THE HAWAIIAN Ho'oponopono PRAYER OF FORGIVENESS
According to Hawaiian tradition, the greatest gift you can give yourself and your surroundings are to free yourself from everything that is not Love, from what is not you. Problems, hatred, sadness, anger, illness, and intolerance are not you. The Hawaiian descriptive “hoo” indicates acting on a concept or bringing a concept into action. Ponopono is defined as "to put right, to put in order, or shape, correct, revise, adjust, amend, regulate, arrange, rectify, tidy up, make orderly or neat." So hoʻoponopono can be translated literally as "to make right" or "to make good". Ho'oponopono is a simple but very effective healing technique and has traditionally been used by Hawaiian families as a practice of apology and reconciliation. The Ho’nopohopono prayer is “I am sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.” However you say it, say it with sincerity for that is what really matters.
NOW IT IS UP TO YOU!
Throughout life, we all will have experiences where we have been wronged or have wronged others. The longer we avoid dealing with these issues the longer we land up suffering and dealing with unresolved relationships. Of course, it is always wise to reflect and consider the best response and course of action. Here, prayerful thought and the wise counsel of trusted friends are better than a casual and quick response. So, whoever comes to mind as you are reading this, consider reaching out and either offer or ask for forgiveness as appropriate.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER ON:
- How might your life be improved by practicing forgiveness?
- What has life taught you about forgiveness and the power of forgiveness?
- How has practicing forgiveness changed your life?
- What would your life be without forgiveness?
- How has your life been impacted by learning to forgive others?
- What relationships might be able to be restored by offering forgiveness?
- When thinking of forgiveness who is the first person to come to mind?