I was reminded by a sarcastic friend recently that I was in the second half of my life, as he used a clever metaphor with a soccer game saying I should be getting ready for penalty kicks. I nervously laughed along with his sick humor and then quickly escaped to Google statistics from actuarial tables, which confirmed that the average male lifespan is 78 years (yes, sadly, I’ve celebrated #39 several times over now). His comment got me thinking about mortality and how much runway I have left in this precious life. It is so ironic how we view lifespan vs time: We all inherently feel life is short, to the point where it’s a cliché, yet, on a daily basis, we all feel we are invincible and have max time to kill. In other words, we feel an immediacy and sense of urgency to live a meaningful life but our daily existence tells a vastly different story. The average American watches four hours of television per day, and this does not include the countless hours the millennials spend glued to social media and video games.
What if you were told you had six months to live? I’m guessing you would find a better use of your time. But this is not about making your bucket list; it is about reconciling relationships, finding peace and greater meaning in life. And that starts with the concept of forgiveness. After all, which is more important at the end of the day: skydiving or repairing open wounds? Gravity may drag us down if we jump from a plane but the weight of broken relationships is the heaviest burden we carry in life. We have all been hurt and wronged in this journey called life but the beautiful paradox is we are empowered to release this emotional pain.
Forgiveness is such an emotionally charged word. It can be nebulous, ambiguous and often implies weakness on behalf of the forgiver. But I would argue it is precisely the opposite as it demands coming from a position of strength and self-awareness. The ability to forgive is a unique human quality that summons all of our inner fortitude and sense of compassion. Of course, some acts we view as incomprehensible and have seething resentment towards someone or something. It’s as if we swallowed a red hot coal and it just now simmers and burns a hole in your gut. It will slowly eat at you, from the inside out, as we lock ourselves into a self-imposed prison and throw away the key.
By elaborating on what forgiveness is NOT, my hope is to have us view our inner wounds a little differently. Forgiveness does not mean to condone or approve of one’s behavior, but rather to let it go. It is only within each of us that we have the power to purge that toxic red hot coal out of our system. It is a powerful negative energy that swirls inside us and can manifest in every part of your daily life, becoming toxic and poisonous. And yet we have the innate ability to release it.
To forgive does not mean to forget. You can still remember, but make a conscious choice to release the resentment or desire to pursue revenge. What is done is done. Easier said than done. We cannot rewrite the past, but we can change our mindset on the present and prospectively. The bitter irony is that even if we have been grossly wronged by the perpetrator, we, the victim, continue to suffer inexorably and often far worse than the perpetrator for years afterward. After they stick the knife in our back, we then reach around and grab it ourselves, continuing to twist and turn it endlessly. In a perfect world, our offender would pull the knife out but the reality is often we need to do this ourselves. It is the only way to purge the pain and move on with our lives so the event does not continue to spill over and poison other areas of our lives. Seeking revenge can be sweet and to cling to the anger, rage and hatred is seductive as it is easy to feed off these negative emotions but it can ultimately destroy us too.
Lastly, forgiveness is not reconciliation. To reconcile requires both parties to mutually work towards a common goal. Forgiveness is a shift in thinking in the victim’s mind toward the wrongdoer. It is one-sided and often unilateral. No, it is not fair nor is it justice but it is a path to self-help and recovery.
Forgiveness IS a healing process. It is taking control of your own life by taking care of the most important part of the equation that added up to the wrongdoing: You.