“To err is human, to forgive is divine” Alexander Pope, English Poet, Born 1668
Today marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which culminates in 10 days on Yom Kippur, a day of atonement. It is a time to reflect on the past year, and to look ahead to the New Year. What do you want to develop in yourself? How do you want to be? In Judaism, the slate between you and your maker will start anew. But, whatever unfinished business you have with others is up to you to mend.
It is one thing to acknowledge your mistakes and failings, and to “make amends” to loved ones. This is always important, and better to do in the moment, than to wait a year to admit.
But what about forgiving others? Isn’t that part of the equation too? Consider all of the moments of disappointment you have experienced. Times when friends or family didn’t come through in the way you would have liked. Were you hurt? –angry? What about conflicts between family members? Or situations where trust and loyalty was violated? Do you want to forgive them?
Have you forgiven those individuals? What helps you forgive others?
I know someone whose brother hasn’t come through in the care of their elderly father. She expected that he would help her, but he hasn’t. They have had big disagreements over money too. She is very disappointed and angry with him. And, she isn’t sure whether she will ever forgive him. Over the years, I have seen many married adults in my office whose spouses had an affair with someone. Often, they want to forgive their partner, but don’t know if they can. They feel stuck in their anger and hurt.
What about when tragedy strikes? Accidental death caused by misjudgments or misbehavior of others. The list of human grievances is long. The list of disappointments is extensive. How do we find forgiveness in our hearts and our minds? It is often easier said than done. It is always helpful, although not necessarily enough, when the other person accepts responsibility for their behavior and acknowledges its painful impact on you. This heartfelt acknowledgement and apology can set the stage for us to forgive the wrongdoer.
This is a good thing to remember when we hurt or disappoint someone else! Forgiveness is very personal. There isn’t a one size fits all formula for letting go of anger and hurt. For some it can take months or years of soul- seeking or prayer. For others, it happens in a flash of awareness. And for some, it is an ongoing struggle that lingers. In some cases, it may not be possible or even desirable.
Here are some helpful things to remember:
My 93 year old friend, Dixie, reminds me to “Take no offense” to begin with. How often do we feel that it's necessary to be offended just because someone does something wrong? Most people do not hurt our feelings on purpose. It usually occurs out of a lack of awareness that is unintentional. It is not necessary to be offended—it is partly a choice.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. By trying to look through the offending party’s eyes, we are better able to empathize with their motivation and intentions. We may see that they had some pain or suffering that we were not aware of that generated their behavior.
More likely, they had a different understanding of their actions.
Express your feelings. Keeping your anger or disappointment to yourself may just fuel the fires of resentment. Letting the other person know how you feel, hopefully in a kind way, may help you let go of your hurt, even if the other person does not accept responsibility of their behavior.
Letting go. This is a process for most people. After acknowledging how you feel and expressing it, focus on living this moment. Don’t live in the past. This can help past feelings to dissipate.
Forgiving does not mean staying in a destructive relationship. There are times when it is necessary and healthy to keep your distance from some people. Abuse is never acceptable.
What do you think? What has helped you forgive others?