How do you define forgiveness? Do you usually respond to “I’m sorry” with “It’s OK”? For most of us this is why we struggle to forgive people true trespasses. We correlate forgiveness with condoning the behavior. For many of us it means that we are telling the person that what they have done is acceptable and let go of. When someone does something that causes true damage the farthest thing from our mind is letting them know that what they did was acceptable and that we have forgotten it.
We need to change our definition of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that the behavior was acceptable or forgotten. It just means that we don’t hold hatred in our hearts. We have let go of resentment, disgust, and anger toward the person. We hold the lessons that need to be learned but let go of the things that create suffering in our lives.
Last week I discussed working to accept life as it is as a part of finding enlightenment. That means that we are required to accept that the past cannot be changed. The things that we have done and that have been done to us cannot be undone. No matter how much or how little the person that has hurt or wronged us feels remorse or regret, the deed has been done.
One of the strongest things you will ever do is forgive someone that isn’t sorry for what they did. For just a moment think of something you hold anger and resentment toward. Think of the justification for the anger and resentment. Now notice your heart-beat, notice your breath, and notice your general attitude about the day. Notice if you feel hopeful or hopeless. This is what anger does to us. It steals our kindness and our hope. It steals our ability to feel in control over our own lives. We are often quick to blame the person or the event, but the true thief is the anger and resentment.
Forgiveness is letting go of the anger and the resentment so that it doesn’t control and run our lives. It is not condoning the behavior that caused the resentment. Forgiveness does not mean letting go of the need to use caution, keep yourself safe, and possibly even remove yourself from the person or thing that is causing the problems. Forgiveness doesn’t mean “everything’s OK between the two of us”. Those that hurt us the most often correlate the two. “You’ve forgiven me? Great! I guess we’re OK now and I can keep doing what I was doing!” It is up to us to make it clear that while we chose to not hold hatred toward anyone, their behavior wasn’t OK. It is the difference between saying “Thank you” for an apology instead of “It’s OK”. One is saying that you accept that they regret their actions and you appreciate the apology, and the other condones the behavior.
Forgiveness isn’t about condoning. Sometimes it really isn’t OK. It is about letting go of hatred and resentment that binds you to suffering. Think of it this way. We can only hold on to so much, and if we choose to hold on to anger and resentment, we limit our ability to hold on to the pleasant stuff. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that forgiving and condoning are the same thing.