Do you know what the Blessed Mother, the apostles, the disciples, and all the followers of Jesus had in common, other than believing that Jesus was the Son of God? They all forgave everyone who was involved in the torture and murder of their Savior. Think about how difficult that had to be. I know how hard it is for me to forgive certain people for what they have done to me, but I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to forgive those murderers.
Because I am the type of person who holds grudges, there have been several occasions during my life when it was extremely difficult for me to forgive individuals who betrayed me or treated me unjustly. When I was younger, there were a few occasions where it took several years for me to forgive different people. It no longer takes me years to forgive, but it can still take several weeks or months before I finally give in.
Each time I have had to confront the issue of forgiving someone, I have argued with myself. Some of the arguments that have gone through my mind to try to convince myself that I need to forgive are:
● You know that you’re going to have to eventually forgive him if you ever want to get into Heaven. That was one rule that was laid down by our Lord. He was very specific when He said that God is only willing to forgive us to the same degree as we have forgiven others.
● It’s not good for your mental, emotional, and spiritual health to refuse to forgive him. In fact, he probably isn’t thinking about you anyway. While he’s going on with his life, you’re continuing to let what he did negatively affect you.
● Your anger and resentment toward him are robbing you of your inner peace. It eats away at your spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being.
Some arguments that I’ve used to convince myself that I’m not ready to forgive a person are:
● Look at everything you did for him. The only thing you got in return was disrespect and humiliation.
● If you think he’s going to apologize, you can forget it. If he even thinks about what he did to you, he’ll feel as though his behavior was justified. In fact, he still believes you had it coming.
● He would do the same thing to you all over again if he had the chance. He needs to pay for what he did. Maybe someday someone will treat him the same way he treated you and he will realize that what he did to you was wrong.
● He not only hurt you, but also hurt other people who were associated with you.
● He needs to apologize if he ever wants to be forgiven.
I have come to the conclusion that when we refuse to forgive someone, what we really desire is revenge. We want to see the person suffer as much or more than we did. We want the person to learn his or her lesson the hard way.
Is that how Jesus and His mother felt? How did the apostles, Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew feel? Did they want revenge? How did they overcome the temptation to refuse to forgive their enemies?
It takes humility and courage to forgive. When we refuse to forgive a person who has insulted, betrayed, humiliated, or harmed us, it is because we’re not willing to imitate Christ. Instead, we choose to imitate His enemies. We choose hate and revenge over love. By choosing hate, we align ourselves with Satan and his agents, rather than with our Lord and His angels and saints.
The best time to forgive someone is during the Easter season. Jesus forgave His enemies before He died on the cross. His forgiveness was a prerequisite to His resurrection. If He had not forgiven His enemies, He would not have risen from the dead. When we refuse to forgive someone who has offended or harmed us, we jeopardize our chance of spending eternity in Heaven.
If there is someone in your life whom you have refused to forgive, now is the time to reconsider. If you’re still talking yourself out of forgiving that person, you need to pray for humility, charity, and courage. Whatever grudge you’re holding against him or her pales in comparison to the grudges Our Lady, the apostles, disciples, and the early Christians could have chosen to hold against our Lord’s persecutors and killers.
The best technique I know of to forgive someone came from Foster Hibbard, a personal coach and speaker who was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. I learned the technique several years ago when I listened to one of his tapes. Here’s the technique:
Go into a quiet room where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes and imagine that the person you are about to forgive is directly in front of you. In the theater of your mind, look straight into the eyes of the person. You have his or her undivided attention. Within your imagination, verbally unleash all your anger against the person. You are allowed to yell and scream and say whatever you want. Let the person know exactly how you feel and how much pain he or she has caused you. You will probably run out of things to say within five minutes. At that point, tell the person in a sincere tone of voice that despite all your suffering, you forgive him or her. After that, each time you are reminded of what the person did to you, tell yourself, “It’s okay, I’ve already forgiven him (or her) for that.”
I’ve added an additional step to Hibbard’s technique. Each time you are reminded of what the person did to you, in addition to reminding yourself that you forgave the person, say a short prayer for the person. In most situations, you do not need to make an effort to see or talk to the person in the future if you don’t want to.
If the person you have forgiven is a family member that you will still need to interact with, such as a spouse, parent, or adult son or daughter, there are other things you will need to do that are beyond the scope of this article. (If you are in that situation, you should, at a minimum, regularly pray for the person and pray for the grace to develop the virtues of profound humility and heroic patience.)
If you use this technique to forgive another person, you will experience a great sense of relief and freedom. It will feel as though you have been released from bondage. More important, it will free up room in your heart and soul to expand the love you have for others. An act of forgiveness is equivalent to flushing poison out of your heart, mind, and soul.
Praise be to the risen and forgiving Lord!