In the Lord’s Prayer we ask, “Forgive us… as we forgive others.” But how? I ran across this column by Joseph Genny from VitalSmarts.com that shows us a great tool for how to do that. Here’s to “changing the story” on all our resentments and grudges.
What responsibility does the receiver of an apology have in the healing of deep-seated hurt? I have felt alienated from my brother for eight years. We had a
blowup (no one really remembers what it was about). He said some words that cut deeply into me. Then a couple of years later he offered a superficial apology. I made a half-hearted offer of forgiveness. But we still have no real relationship. Is there something more I should do?
Dear Personal Battle,
I’m sorry about the pain and alienation you’re feeling with your brother. Eight years is a lot of time lost. I know you must be feeling the loss of it as well or you wouldn’t have made the effort to write me. I hope something I offer can help you regain your warmth with him.
To paraphrase, you asked what responsibility you have in forgiving another. Interestingly, you asked in a way that suggests there is a relationship between the quality of the apology you receive and the timing of your forgiveness. You gave another telling tidbit as well, offering that “no one really remembers” what the original offense was. Finally, you described his apology as equally superficial to your forgiveness.
I believe there are times when it is risky to forgive. Yours is not one of them. It’s risky to forgive if maintaining a feeling of animosity helps you steer clear of physically or emotionally unsafe circumstances. Those who struggle to hold strong boundaries often equate forgiveness with permission. They couple the surrender of hurt feelings with the collapsing of safe distance, thus enabling others to hurt them again. The fact that you cannot remember the original hurt tells me it has less to do with risk and more to do with resentment. You felt unjustly treated and have nursed the feeling of injustice far out of proportion to the offense.
If this assessment is accurate, I offer the following:
- Forgiveness is the natural result of a new story. We can’t feel differently toward others until we think differently about them—and ourselves. Forgiveness is difficult because we stay stuck in the story we’ve told ourselves about what happened. As long as we maintain a picture of others’ villainy and our own virtue, we feel morally justified in our anger or frustration. We take delight in the suffering we hope the other person is feeling from our withheld affection because we perversely imagine they deserve to suffer or that the suffering is a learning experience. “Perhaps,” we reason, “this mutual misery will help them see the error of their ways and become a better human being. I’m a wonderful person for helping them have this life-changing experience!” Until we intentionally examine our own faults and others’ virtues, we feel no need to forgive. The instant we begin this painful but wonderful process, the icy feelings inside us begin to melt. If we continue that process to its natural end, feelings of forgiveness are inevitable. Changing your story is the key to changing your feelings. You can take deliberate steps toward forgiveness today by listing all the ways you have contributed to the ruptured relationship with your brother in the past eight years.
- You challenge what you think when you change what you want. Given that challenging your story is a painful process, why would anyone do so? We do it when our motives change. That’s why the first principle of Crucial Conversations is Start with Heart. When your motives change, your behavior follows naturally. People who resist forgiving are sometimes stuck in self-justifying stories—stories that protect them from the pain of reexamining their view of themselves and others. Sadly, the primary motivator that drags our story into the light is the acute experience of the pain of a lost relationship. Are you ready to end the loss? What do you really want? Do you want a high-quality apology? Or do you want a relationship with your brother? Are you ready to sacrifice one to give yourself the other? Notice if even the thought of surrendering your resentments fills you with panic. That panicky feeling is your ego quivering with fear. And that is a good thing. It is you deciding that being “right” is not important as being happy.
I called attention to your equating the timing of your forgiveness with the quality of your brother’s apology. There is no real connection between the two. You can forgive as soon as you choose to. And you will choose to when you both examine your story, and change your motives.
“Holding a grudge is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die? Don’t take that poison. Forgive, forget, and move on with your life.”
I thought Mr. Genny’s observation was useful that the perverse satisfaction we can get from a grudge can keep us from “moving on.”
Comments arrived by email:
Thank you Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family also God bless
You got them Rose! Autumn leaves but not quite there yet…It is like us on our spiritual journey with the Lord. How patient and kind He is in allowing us to be transformed slowly but steadily under His watchful eyes as He does with nature itself!
Thanks always for the little personal touch which is not missed on each sending.
Hope to get to listen to all the videos on patience. .
God bless you.
Thank you for the forgiveness message, have a blessed thanksgiving.
Beautiful message on forgiveness, Rose! Thank you!
And just in time for the holidays, right? :)
Anger destroys the container it’s held in.
Resentment and being unable to forgive do the same thing.
At the end of the day you’re the one that’s being hurt.
Thanks for sharing this, Fiona!
After a Lenten mission almost 30 years ago a small parish group began meeting using AA’s Twelve-Step program adapted to heighten our spirituality. Discussions were lively as we approached the step where we needed to make amends to those we had wronged. I knew I had to sit down with my mother-in-law because I had always felt that our relationship was strained and uncomfortable. I poured out my heart after much soul searching, and I asked her forgiveness for times when I had not been loving. Imagine my utter joy when she just smiled and said we were good… and always had been! No confession had ever been so freeing. I had forgiven and been forgiven, face to face. The best part was that our relationship remained strong and loving until the day she died, and I learned something that will be with me forever.
Thanks for the wonderful story, Christine!
More comments arrived by email:
Great advice! Have a blessed Thanksgiving as well! Hard to believe where 2018 has gone!
Peace in Christ,
WoW, Rose! What a great way to look at forgiveness, a complete deconstruction of grudges, very welcomed at this time of family gatherings!! I pray that you have a blessed and beautiful holiday season of Thanksgiving. You are such a precious person.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. This is a thought provoking message.
Colette M Kalvesmaki
Thank you Rose. This is a message we always need to work on. . . . ..
Blessed Thanksgiving to you.
Right, Colette, we’re never finished, are we? And I’m glad God is never finished forgiving *us*!
Thank you Rose!
Apostle Paul writes in Col 3:12 that, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, we are to put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, long suffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another even as Christ forgave us..
Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy your family and friends. Thank you for sharing such encouraging words. May the peace of God rule in you heart. God bless.
Amen, Ophelia! Thanks for sharing the words of St. Paul.