When we choose to forgive, then the person who hurt us no longer has the power to control our emotions.
That statement bears a lot of thinking about. It’s important; it’s powerful; it’s one of the best arguments for choosing forgiveness that I know.
Do you know someone who is easily offended, angry, quick to snap back at an offense real or imagined? A person who is bitter, negative, unpleasant to be around, and one that you “walk on eggshells” around to avoid conflict? Are YOU that person? Do others feel you have to be “handled” rather than just enjoyed?
These traits are often related to an offense, or an ongoing series of events, that colored the person’s life and that he has never forgiven. Perhaps he doesn’t know he needs to forgive. Perhaps no one ever taught or modeled forgiveness to him. In any case, for years and years the person has been living under the burden of negative emotion. He may have little or no contact with the person who hurt him, yet that person still controls his emotions and, therefore, much of his behavior.
In my work, I’ve found that this tendency toward anger and bitterness often marks whole families. That is because they have existed in an atmosphere or retaliation rather than of forgiveness. They view forgiveness as weakness; they see it as allowing the other person to have the upper hand. The upper hand is very important to these people. They don’t know that you gain the upper hand only when you learn to let go of your hurt. When you do let it go, having the upper hand just doesn’t matter so much any more.
When we do not choose to forgive, we hold on to memories and emotions that color our thinking and behavior, thereby allowing the offender to guide our behavior. I work with people who carry great anger against one or both parents, or perhaps a sibling, who dominated and controlled the rest of the family. Years later, perhaps even after the offender has died, these people are still behaving as if the offender is right beside them and has the power to control them still. When I suggest to them that it is time to set themselves free from their anger by forgiving the offender, it always, always sets them back. The most typical response is complete denial of any need to forgive, denial of the anger and bitterness that everyone else sees in the person. Bringing that person to a place of recognizing the source of his unhappiness is sometimes a long and winding journey.
To forgive, in these cases, is to cut loose a mountainous load of legitimate hurt, humiliation, helplessness, anger, and resentment. That load is doing far more damage to the one who carries it than it does to the offender, who is often oblivious to the pain he has caused.
We need to forgive for our emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical health. We need to forgive so that we can pry off the fingers of control that the offender exerts over us.
Next week: Do you have to tell the person that you have forgiven him?