How do you forgive the big hurts? (or why I'm suddenly feeling like a Girl Scout)

How do you forgive the big hurts? (or why I’m suddenly feeling like a Girl Scout)

A few days ago I received an email from a man who explained how he liked the forgiveness challenge. How it was motivating him to be better.

He felt the challenge was good for little hurts, those daily aggravations we all must deal with. But he was concerned about the big hurts. The hurts that keep you awake at night. The hurts you’ve never been able to recover from.

How do you forgive a devastating hurt that has altered your life or your family’s life forever?

I closed the email and took a deep breath.


I mean–how do you forgive the offence that splits your foundation? How do you forgive someone who may have harmed your family, your children?

How do you forgive the seemingly unforgivable?

My buddy’s daughter is a Girl Scout. He recently sent me a picture of hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout cookies stacked through his house. And after reading the email asking about forgiving the big hurts, I suddenly felt like a shy Girl Scout under the watchful gaze of a bossy troop leader, burdened with boxes of cookies.

Was I in over my head with this forgiveness stuff?

Maybe I should’ve quit the Girl Scouts before having to sell all these cookies.

Anyway–what would I say to someone who has been dealt a tremendous hurt, a tragedy, and is writhing in emotional agony?

I would tell you that I do not have the right to tell you to forgive. And that you have every right to feel angry and bitter and sad and every other negative emotion we feel when we’ve been dealt such a blow.

I would just a shake of the head. Maybe grimace.

Say, “I’m sorry.”

I would then clear my throat. Maybe put my hand on your shoulder. And in the most graceful way I know how, I would say something like this…

You have every right to feel negatively. You do.

But I have to ask, do you want to feel this way?

Do you want to define your life by the burdens you carry? Or by your ability to lay down those burdens and move on?

The older I get the more I realize how people use heartache to their advantage. They seek pity and attention instead of accepting and letting go. Heartache becomes an excuse, a limitation and quickly they become a prisoner to the hurt. Yet the only way to free yourself from the shackles of hurt is to forgive.

I know you want to heal. 

We can’t turn back time. The past is permanent but feelings are fluid. In the present we can change our feelings. We can choose to forgive.

I see that your breath is thin and your hands calloused from carrying such a hurt.

Though admirable, holding onto hurt is not courageous.

Courage is putting down your hurt and parting ways like lovers who’ve grown apart. And though it may not be a clean break–we know we’ll be better if we move on.

Now since we’re friends, I need to tell you something: If someone hurt my children, my first instinct would be to channel my inner Marsellus Wallace from Pulp Fiction and “get Medieval…”.

And maybe that would be your response too. But this isn’t Pulp Fiction. This is real life and violence as a response violence only deepens hurt. Retaliation sells movie tickets and may offer momentary relief but after the credits roll and the house lights brighten, the initial hurt returns.

Until we forgive, we are forever locked in a cycle of hurt.

I also think it’s important to know that if you forgive someone for hurting you– you are not approving their behavior or denying their responsibility. You can forgive while seeking justice and holding the person accountable for their actions. You don’t have to use a Samurai sword.

And no matter what Hollywood says, forgiveness and justice have nothing to do with each other.

You can pray, meditate, write out the hurt. You can talk to a professional or your reflection in the mirror. No matter your method, like a Girl Scout pining for more badges, you’re selling forgiveness to your soul.

Forgiveness takes time. Dedication. And a support system of people who desperately want to see you happy again.

You’ve been here awhile, would you like a cookie?

Please eat something because forgiveness takes time and requires energy and stamina. Forgiveness is a life-long journey of self-awareness and self-discovery– plan accordingly.

Let’s open a box of Thin Mints.

No one can force us to forgive. We should only forgive when we’re ready too. You must give out forgiveness freely– unlike Girl Scout cookies which are $4 a box.

Forgiveness is an act of control. Choosing to forgive is you reclaiming control over your emotions and your life.

With all that said, the question remains…how do we forgive the big hurts?

I think it comes down to a choice: to suffer or to heal. To be the victim or the hero of your own life.

If you choose to be a victim you will always be hurt. You will hold onto anger, stress, and resentment. Three things, according to research, are more physically damaging than eating an entire sleeve of Peanut Butter Patties. And when you choose to victimize yourself–your glass of milk will always be half empty.

But if you choose to be a hero, you choose to forgive. And forgiveness as Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “is the best form of self-interest.”

The choice is yours.

But proceed with caution. Forgiveness is hard work. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s harder then harboring negative feelings everyday.

Remember, letting go is always harder than holding on.

So while you’re deciding…how about buying a box of Girl Scout cookies?

Be well,


PS– after some consideration I am changing the name of the Self-forgiveness Challenge to The Forgiveness Journey— a yearlong journey to let go, move on, and reclaim your life.

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