“Isn’t forgiveness a religious thing?”
The other day a woman asked, “Isn’t forgiveness a religious thing?”
A long time ago I went to catholic elementary school. And I was taught (and believed) that only a priest (“God’s helper”… like a mall Santa, I guess ) could grant forgiveness. And I was conditioned to believe forgiveness was relatively easy. If your shirt tail was tucked in your slacks and you recited 5 Hail Marys your soul would be as clear highway before dawn.
But despite what the nice people at St. Ephrem Catholic Elementary said–I’ve recently come to realize forgiveness is hard and it’s not just a Catholic thing– it’s a human thing.
Look– if someone stole $50 from me and then returned it, apologized, ask for forgiveness–I wouldn’t check their religious denomination first.
What would I care if they were Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim. I just got my $50 back.
Forgiveness does not need religious alignment for validation.
Forgiveness a choice. Like kindness or jerkiness.
Currently, my religious beliefs are like Walmart the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Some things are in stock. Some things are not. Some things are torn open. Others are in the wrong aisle. It’s loud. And there are spills throughout the store. But one thing is certain– it’s chaos in there.
I want to be clear–The Forgiveness Journey has nothing to do with religion.
It’s a secular experiment.
Does practicing forgiveness improve my mental health, perspective, productivity, and relationships?
It’s 2020 and American mental health is in crisis. 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. 62% of American teens and children with a major depressive episode received no treatment. And suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-19.
A lot of our mental health deformities come from holding on to the anxiety, guilt, stress, resentment, and tension we carry from day to day. And you know how much we can carry. How one negative experience can effect other experiences. Like when you had a bad day at work and when you come home, how you take your bad day out on the kids, the dog, and the poor mailman.
So, how do we deal with these negative feelings?
First, let’s agree on four things…
1. The world is a mean and unforgiving place. Bad things happen. We will get hurt and we will hurt other people. And sometimes people suck (including ourselves).
2. Despite the suckage, we are responsible for the way we feel.
3. We don’t want to stomp down the Walmart aisles balls of anger and rage like some suburban Godzilla.
4. We want to be happy.
So the world might be mean. But that does not give us the right to be mean.
Meanness and choosing unforgiveness is a personal choice. A choice that effects all our choices.
Second, let’s agree on three things…
We can take responsibility for the way we feel.
We can stop arguing with life.
No matter our religion, we can try forgiveness.
You don’t need to be the Buddha or 10 year old Catholic kid with parted hair and a crustless PB&J for lunch to forgive.
Just be cool. Let things go. Forgive.
Step 1- Set a specific day
Schedule a specific day to forgive yourself. I’m going to take the lead here and declare the 15th of every month will be self-forgiveness day. For those who receive my posts via email, I will send you a reminder on the 15th of each month that your self-forgiveness is due. It will be like paying your mortgage but better.
And since repetition is a part of forgiveness, let’s do it once a month and make self-forgiveness a healthy habit in 2020.
Step 2- Write down 12 things that need to be forgiven
Today, write down 12 things you need to forgive yourself for. Writing down our hurts give them a real, tangible representation. They are not just vapor floating in our heart and mind.
I suggest storing the list on your phone for both permanence and easy access.
Also, be specific about a particular action or thought or feeling that needs forgiveness. If you said, “I want to forgive myself for a bunch of stuff I did in my 20’s”, it’s too abstract, too unclear. Forgiveness only works when it’s concrete. I also suggest writing down an estimated date, location, and a summary of your actions.
Also, let’s be honest, some hurts won’t be forgiven with one day of absolution, so there might be a specific hurt that you may need multiple months of attention. For example, my illness causes deep personal shame that I need to deal with. I’m dedicating 3 months (January, July, December) for forgiving my shame.
Step 3- Take time for self-examination
On the 15th of the month, find some interrupted time to think deeply about the specific hurt that needs forgiveness.
Pray, meditate, have a cup of tea and reflect on one specific hurt that needs forgiving.
Begin your reflection with:
I forgive you for__________. I will not seek revenge or revert to self-pity for my past hurts. I will accept myself as imperfect. Yet despite my imperfections, I realize I am valuable, capable of great things, and deserving of happiness.
Recall or write down the details of the event.
Recall or write down negative emotions the event caused you to feel.
Realize or write down a positive positive attitudes/realizations the event has gifted you.
Reframe your hurt. Though you can’t rewind time, you can use your hurt has a means of broadening your perspective and deepening your gratitude. Think or write down how the hurt presented you unique lessons and opportunities that you might use to help other people deal with their own hurt.
Step 4- Honor the private act of self-forgiveness
Keep it to yourself. Self-forgiveness is a deeply private exercise. Do not gloat. Do not post on Facebook. Do not not look for likes or outside validation. Forgiveness requires humility. Some people will not get what you’re doing. That’s okay. This is just for you.
Step 5- Do something nice for someone else
On the 15th of every month (our self-forgiveness day) do something nice for someone else. This can be offering a compliment to someone, write a thank-you note, buy a stranger coffee, give a homeless person a meal, donate to a local charity, etc. The point is–doing something nice for someone else is both healthy for us and others. Celebrate your improvement by taking action and improving someone else’s life.
You can make the world a better place for your family, friends, and anyone you interact with if you practice self-forgiveness.
This is important--forgiving yourself can be tricky business. Forgiveness is not a quick fix and there is no one-size-fits all solution.
If you forgive yourself for cheating on the taxes your forgiveness doesn’t exonerate you from punishment. And forgiving yourself doesn’t make it okay. This do-it-yourself absolution can be reckless. The point is–if we want to positively improve and grow we have to make peace with our past. We must forgive our past actions in order to accept who we are now.
Need some encouragement? Some reassurance? Need to stay positive? This hardworking, suburban soccer dad with fancy hair can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door ( your email inbox).