Why is it so hard to forgive those who have hurt you?
Does it seem like if you forgive the one who’s hurt you, that person bears no responsibility? They’re off the hook? That forgiving them means they are not accountable and that you will suffer alone? So many relationships – family, friends, marriages – are destroyed by an unwillingness to forgive and let go of hurt. When you don’t forgive, your heart becomes a prison holding those who have hurt you hostage.
Forgiveness is key if you desire personal happiness. Who wants to date someone who is wrapped up in anger and self-pity? In making yourself available for a romantic relationship, you should visit the forgiveness department of your heart, because not forgiving could be holding you back. An unwillingness to forgive has a physical, spiritual, moral, and emotional effect.
It has a physical effect because when you don’t forgive and instead entertain thoughts of anger, resentment, or revenge, it has a physical affect on your body. The amount of energy spent on being angry plays a role in why some people suffer from exhaustion, and could cause your immune system to become depleted, leaving you susceptible to flues and viruses. The stress from being bitter and angry often results in ulcers, acid reflux, headaches, sleep deprivation, inability to concentrate, and other serious problems.
A lack of forgiveness also has a spiritual effect because it prevents us from truly loving God and others, which defeats our purpose as human beings. Giving and receiving love is what we were created for. A priest once asked me in confession, Do you want to be in love? And of course, my answer was yes! Then he went on to ask me, How can you say that and not forgive? Your heart has little room for love – it is filled with anger and resentment for those who have hurt you. For me, that was a stinging slap across my face, but certainly one I needed, for I had to admit he was right.
There’s also the moral effect that not being willing to forgive has, because Christ commanded us to forgive (cf. Matthew 18:35). He made it clear that anyone who did not forgive from the bottom of their hearts would suffer themselves. As we’ve heard in Matthew’s gospel, we cannot ask God for His mercy and forgiveness for our own sins and failings, yet refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters for theirs. We need to find it within ourselves, no matter how deep the wounds are, to forgive.
But knowing you need to forgive is much easier than the act and this is a much bigger issue. Here are a few suggestions to help you on your way:
- You need God’s help. This issue of forgiveness is such a huge monster to tackle that to try and do it on your own could disappoint and discourage you. Pray to God and ask Him for the grace to forgive – then trust that He will give it to you. But make it a daily prayer. Another friend of mine put it very well… she prayed that God would make her “willing to be willing to forgive.” She didn’t want to forgive but since she knew she couldn’t heal without forgiving, she left it entirely up to God, praying for the grace and eventually, forgiveness came. God gently brought her the gift of that grace in His perfect timing. He can do the same for you.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Forgiveness is an everyday process and cannot be accomplished quickly (unless, of course, God grants you an extraordinary grace). You may one day feel you can forgive and the next day you want revenge. Believe me, it is and it’s not indicative of failure at all. Just remain open to God’s grace. That’s all you have to do to allow Him to work on your heart. Imagine an olympic athlete training for their goals… it takes time.
- Acceptance paves the way for forgiveness. Do you understand that you cannot control what other people think, say, and do? If you haven’t done this yet, take some time to reflect upon what acceptance means in regard to those you need to forgive.
These three points help to address the emotional affect that not forgiving hurts has. Working on forgiveness helps to bring a healthy balance to how you feel.
A great book for working on forgiveness is How To Forgive Yourself And Others, by Father Eamon Tobin. I highly recommend this book.
Always remember that Jesus is very close to you as you work to forgive. He loves you with a passionate and never-ending love. In your journey toward forgiveness, lean on Him. Ask Him for the graces you need to detach from the hurts. He is waiting to give it to you and will not leave you alone in your suffering.
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