We all know that we should forgive the wrongs done to us. And usually, forgiving isn't that hard to do. We can forgive the clerk that short-changed us or the friend who didn't show up for our lunch date. We can even forgive the person who cut us off in traffic.
Sometimes, though, forgiveness is much more difficult. Especially when the offense is great, extending forgiveness can seem almost impossible.
The difficulty we have in forgiving reflects the pain we have suffered. We have been hurt, so our natural reaction is to strike back at the person who hurt us. Often, we do this by holding a grudge. By doing so, we somehow believe we are hurting the other person in return. Logically, we know this is not how it works. In fact, we are usually only hurting ourselves. Yet holding a grudge can be a passive way for us to express our pain.
When an offense causes us significant loss, our pain can easily turn to bitterness. This bitterness then eats away at us and solidifies our resentment of the offender. As a result, we become powerless to move beyond the offense. Instead, we are tied to that moment in time and are continually reminded of the loss we suffered. In essence, we cause ourselves to relive the offense again and again.
Our inability or unwillingness to forgive can have dramatically negative effects on us personally. Not only does it affect our relationship with the offender, it spreads to other relationships, too. We can close ourselves off from others—perhaps in an attempt to protect ourselves from being hurt again. Others can sense our resentment and may begin to distance themselves from us, too.
Beyond this negative effect on our relationships, refusing to forgive can have medical and spiritual consequences. Bitterness and resentment have been tied to a variety of health problems. Plus, every major world religion emphasizes the importance of forgiving—whether it be for our own inner peace or our relationship with God.
None of us are perfect. We have all been wronged and we have all wronged others. If we expect others to extend forgiveness to us, we need to reciprocate by extending forgiveness to others.
Granted, this isn't always easy. It may take some time and involve tough conversations with the offender to work through the issues. You may even discover that the offender is unaware of the offense. More serious cases may require enlisting the help of a mediator or booking sessions with a professional counselor or minister. In the end, though, it is always worth it.
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