THE FORGIVENESS JOURNEY: On the 15th of every month I publish a post about forgiveness. This is the 11th post in my yearlong attempt to learn about and institute practices of forgiveness in my own life. I’m not a forgiveness expert. I’m a novice learning as I go. The objective of these posts is to share my learned lessons with you.
As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison ~ Nelson Mandela
Every time I think about her my chest tightens. It still amazes me how she could be so inconsiderate. So thoughtless. So rude. What she did happened months ago yet she fails to even mention it. Apologize. She acts like it never happened. But it did happen. To me. And right now, as I write this sentence, the screws in my chest tighten and something sour climbs my throat.
Her and I are face to face. She gives a lazy smile and makes small talk. She doesn’t talk about the thing. Her avoidance stokes my anger. My chest tightens. She avoids eye contact and when the conversation heads toward a predictable awkward pause she buoys the moment and says, “Some weather we’re having, huh?”
You, me, the woman asking me about the weather hopscotch around uncomfortable topics. We would rather avoid the uncomfortable than engage the uncomfortable. This avoidance creates tension which deepens our grudges which tightens our chest.
Famed behavioral psychologist Daniel Goleman explains when a person merely thinks of the group or person who caused ill feelings–their own body responds with anger. Just thinking about their adversary instigates stress hormones, raises blood pressure, and hinders immune effectiveness. Goleman also argues forgiving someone reverses these biological reactions. Forgiveness lowers our blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones, reduces stress and curbs depression.
I shift my weight, swallow down something sour,”Yes, it’s mild.”
Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading researcher on self-compassion, identifies for us to forgive our grudges we must have the maturity to understand and accept what Neff identifies as “common humanity.” This is–like you, even your adversary is suffering. When we’re suffering we easily forget this truth. We want others to hurt like we hurt. So we dehumanize them. We fail to see them as a reflection of yourself.
What’s more, the reasons for holding grudges makes sense to us. We want the person who hurt us want to be accountable for their actions.
But when has holding a grudge ever benefited you? When has holding a grudge made you happy? When has holding a grudge helped you think more clearly and unbiased?
It has not.
11 months into the Forgiveness Journey and I’ve concluded forgiveness is not for everyone. I mean it’s easy for me to encourage you to forgive but the act of forgiveness is hard and intimating work and requires us to let go– even if what we hold onto weighs us down.
I’ve come to understand how grudges not only burden us but make our lives unnecessarily complex. Our grudges, and our response to those grudges, define us. When we hold onto a grudge, that grudge weaves into every moment of our lives. When we’re brushing our teeth or stirring our coffee or sitting at a red light or lying in bed try hard to fall asleep. To our detriment we obsess over our grudges. We become our grudges.
And let’s be honest. We’re probably not dealing with big transgressions everyday. But it’s those little, daily transgressions that gnaw at our spirit, alter our mood, and instigate deep bitterness.
Her cell phone rings. She fishes it out of her pocket, looks at it, looks at me, “I have to take this. We’ll talk later.”
She puts the phone to her ear, “Hello” and moves away.
What does she mean by we’ll talk later? About the thing that happened months ago? About the thing that keeps me up at night? About the tightness in my chest? About the sour lump in my throat?
Maybe she knows what she did. Maybe she doesn’t. Either way what she does or doesn’t know is not my problem. My problem is letting go. My problem is being mature enough to find a common humanity. My problem is finding the grace to forgive.
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