Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Forgiveness: It's a New Vegetable

“Life is an adventure in forgiveness.” –Norman Cousins

There is no doubt that eating veggies keeps the body healthy and strong, but I'd like to suggest another life-improving habit: forgiveness. Practicing forgiveness requires stretching a mental muscle that, at times, can be very stiff. Just like eating a vegetable I strongly dislike, practicing forgiveness is good for me. I think when I look back on my life, however long or short, I will name forgiveness as one of my biggest challenges, and hopefully, my greatest area of growth. Like lifting weights, forgiving others carries with it varying degrees of difficulty ranging from the petty, to more extreme and damaging offenses. Forgiveness is a process that takes patience and perseverance, the same qualities required for success in physically toning muscles.

Spiritually, I’ve been taught that there is no limit to the amount of times I should forgive. However, living up to this teaching is a continuous struggle. Surprisingly, I think being committed to marriage helps me grow in this area. (I’m not trying to be funny or sarcastic.) I’ve come to realize that forgiveness, like love, happens more fully through actions rather than words. What I mean is, in order to really forgive someone; a person must act on the feeling, besides just saying “I forgive you.”

The action involves an openness of heart and mind; that is the real challenge of forgiving. I’m fascinated by the way little children forgive. We seem to grow backwards in a sense. As children we trust and forgive without hesitation, but as we age, we lose this ability. Why?

Even though I may still feel angry or hurt, I try to go through the motions of forgiveness. I even pray for people who hurt me, and initially, I just do this because I am taught it is the right thing, like memorizing math formulas, and having no understanding of the full concepts. My prayers are sometimes sarcastic; (I’m only human). I think them anyway, and something interesting happens: the hurt softens.

What I’m learning is that holding a grudge takes much more energy than forgiving. Remaining angry drains me on so many levels. When I try to mentally let a situation go, it’s not like an immediate feeling of euphoria washes over me. I’m still mad, but I’m working on it. Like scrapping a stubborn piece of gum off of the underside of a schoolroom desk, eventually, with physical effort, I can scuff off the gunk of anger build-up in my brain.

My husband’s aunt Marie passed away after a fight with Cancer. She is a great soul: a person of tremendous strength. In addition to battling a terminal illness, Marie's son was murdered on September 11th in the attack on the World Trade Center. Before she passed away she wrote a letter to all of her family and friends about forgiveness, and although I am only a relative by marriage, she touched my heart too. I share this letter with the teens in the youth ministry program that I lead. Here it is:

“…the only way that I have been able to survive this journey is my utmost faith that this is the path God has given me. I accept this journey because of my faith. This journey has been made sweeter because of everyone here who has touched my life. I accept and embrace you all for your goodness and kindness. I also have faith in your goodness and when you embrace and enjoy goodness in people, you embrace God. As you embrace goodness, the perceived faults of others seem to disappear. If you learn anything from me it is to have faith in human kindness…Forgiveness is growth for not only the soul, but the body. Accept people for who they are. Don’t be judgmental; it is not your place to judge. Again accept them for their goodness…” - Marie

Thank you Aunt Marie.


Anonymous said...

Great post. As I read it, I thought of that other tough vegie - saying "I'm sorry," which can be just as difficult as finding it in you to forgive. But once again, your words do inspire. Keep up the good work!


Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Great thoughts. Forgiveness isn't easy. If it was it wouldn't be made such an issue of in the Bible! I'm certain it is mostly for our own health that we are supposed to forgive. You'll definitely live longer for it.

Anonymous said...

i think the word great is not enough to describe this post,its a marvellous one,i'll put a link to it in my next post.
thanks for sharing.
may god protect u and your sweet family.

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