For some reason I’ve been thinking lately about the whole concept of forgiveness, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a lot of inaccurate info out there on it. (Astounding, I know.) How does this apply to happiness, you ask? Forgiveness, rightly understood, is a key component. It is impossible to be happy if you’re walking around stewing about something somebody did to you.
You also can’t be happy if you’re carrying around load of guilt because you’re trying to forgive a wrong in the wrong way.
So let’s take a look at three correctives to these forgiveness mistakes:
Remember way, way back when the “Access Hollywood” tapes surfaced, with a ten-years-younger Donald Trump bragging about assaulting women?
(This big reveal happened at the beginning of October; it seems like a lifetime ago now.) There was all this ringing rhetoric about how we needed to be FORGIVING. But here’s the thing: those who had not been assaulted by Mr. Trump could not extend him forgiveness, because he hadn’t wronged them. I can’t forgive my neighbor for cheating on his taxes; I can forgive him for letting his dog loose in my yard. Saying that we should forgive the misdeeds of a public figure makes us all into Roman Catholic priests. Which we aren’t.
2. You must not confuse “forgiving” with “excusing” or “condoning.”
I’ve realized, somewhat belatedly, that if someone has wronged me and then asks me to forgive the wrong, the request is often really asking for me to excuse the wrong, to pat the person on the head and say, “Oh, that’s all right. Don’t worry about it.”
That is not forgiveness.
Forgiveness involves letting go of revenge and honestly desiring the other person’s good. Excuse-making dismisses and makes light of the wrong. Doing that, letting the other person off the hook, is probably one of the worst actions you can take as the wronged person. Now he got away with it! He’ll just do it again!
And maybe we should stop using the word “forgive” so lightly. Most of the time, a minor slight doesn’t even warrant the serious work of forgiveness. Just fugeddaboutit!
3. You don’t have to stay in a position of being wronged again even if you’ve forgiven someone.
If I make a business deal with you, and you cheat me, I can choose to forgive you whether or not you ask me to do so. I may decide to take you to court to get my money back, but that’s not the same thing as seeking revenge. I may wish you well and hope you do better in the future. But I would be a fool to sign another contract with you.
Words from an article in a Christian women’s magazine read many years ago and never forgotten: “Sometimes not holding a grudge means not putting yourself in the position of being wronged again.”
Are you going around with the burden of trying to forgive when it’s not up to you? Or are you continuing to put yourself into situations where you know you’ll be wronged? Either way, you’re setting yourself up for a load of unhappiness.