To Forgive…Difficult, but Divine

With an abundance of celebrations, neighborhood gatherings, office parties and family meals, it’s no surprise that for many people, this season carries angst and stress.

Obligatory social events can serve as pressure cookers, causing long-simmering issues to a come to a boil and even explode.

Consider who’s on your “naughty” list:

  • The guy who lets his dog poop on your lawn? He’s standing by the meatball appetizers. Here’s your chance to tell him off.
  • The colleague who takes credit for your work? She just poured herself another Cosmo. Perhaps an “accidental” bump would cause that drink to spill on her skimpy dress.
  • At the family feast, the uncle who drinks too much and starts attacking your political views? Would it be so wrong to slip something into his next drink?
  • The sister-in-law who posted those unflattering photos of you on Facebook? Should you spit on the camera or take a shot while she’s stuffing her face?
  • Your own mother likes to say that her parenting style led to better-behaved kids, and your children are proving her right. What would happen if you stormed away from the table?
  • On New Year’s Eve, you’re bound to see that “frenemy” who told your entire book club that deep, dark secret you revealed during a GNO. It’s tempting to share something about her, isn’t it?

And yet, those emotions—and especially thoughts of revenge—seem flat-out wrong during this season, which offers time to convene and connect; to reflect; to give time, gifts and spirit; to sing; to shop, wrap, send and receive; to decorate, host and visit; to bake and certainly to eat.

peaceOn the eve of Christmas and the dawning of a new year, I’d like to offer a plea for forgiveness – first and foremost for myself, but also for any of you readers who could use some gentle prodding.

According to the Mayo Clinic online, forgiveness “is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. [It} can help you focus on other, positive parts of your life…[and] can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.”

Perhaps most important, the Mayo Clinic site states that “forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.”

Not only will forgiveness add levity to those holiday gatherings, but it will also make you healthier and happier. In fact, in a 2001 study on “Granting Forgiveness and Harboring Grudges,” researchers found that even thinking about forgiving someone can lead to improved cardiovascular- and nervous-system functioning.

If forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t worry; according to Stanford University researcher Frederic Luskin, it can be taught. In his book Learning to Forgive, Luskin recounts how people in Northern Ireland who lost loved ones to political violence received help for forgiveness, and ended up feeling not only less angry and hurt, but also more optimistic and even self-confident.

So, how about the families in Newtown, CT?  The man who killed their children, siblings, principal and/or teachers never apologized, and probably was too mentally deranged to regret his actions. Where does that leave those who lost loved ones?

Says the Mayo Clinic: “Think of forgiveness more about how it can change your life – by bringing you peace, happiness and emotional and spiritual healing. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.”

The Mayo Clinic suggests that forgiveness is “a process to change,” and requires the following steps:

  • Recognize the value of forgiveness in your life;
  • Think about how you reacted to the offense and how this affected your health and happiness;
  • Make a conscious decision forgive the person who hurt you;
  • Stop acting like a victim; doing so will negate the power that person has had on your life and happiness.

In M.L. Stedman’s lovely book Light Between Oceans, a childless couple finds an orphaned infant, and their decision for dealing with the discovery both unites and splinters them. Much later, one of the protagonists says: “I can forgive and forget, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.”

Several years back, when I felt terribly wronged by someone close to me, a good friend suggested, “You don’t have to ever forget what happened, but you should learn to forgive.”

For me, it’s easy to remember the wrongs, but hard to forgive the offenders. Because I often set unrealistic standards for others as well as myself, this advice from the Mayo Clinic resonates: “Expect occasional imperfections from the people in your life… [and] ask yourself if you would have reacted similarly if you faced the same situation.”

Perhaps most important, “Avoid judging yourself too harshly. You’re human, and you’ll make mistakes.”

So, if you’re sitting around the Christmas table or ringing in the New Year with someone who has hurt you, consider this advice from the Mayo Clinic: “Do your best to keep an open heart and mind. You might find that the experience helps you to move forward with forgiveness.” And may that bring you peace during this season and throughout 2013.

–       Linda “Grinch” Williams Rorem, 24 Dec. 2012
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