What do Benjamin Franklin, Mahatma Gandhi, and Tyler Perry all have in common? Does this sound like the start of a bad joke? It's not. All three of these iconic personalities who transcend historical boundaries of time, culture, and heritage have commented on the importance of one item.
- Ben Franklin said, "The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness..."
- Mahatma Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."
- Tyler Perry said, "It's simple: when you haven't forgiven those who've hurt you, you turn your back against your future. When you do forgive, you start walking forward."
Those are pretty powerful words for a powerful force.
I'm fairly confident that I wouldn't have gotten through my divorce positively without being able to forgive my ex. Prior to forgiving him, I was angry, bitter, resentful, and full of revenge. Sound familiar? I realized one day that this was no way to live. I don't want to make this sound like all sunshine and roses, but I was tired of my mental reel playing out my little revenge scenario. It was only hurting me, and my outlook on life, which certainly impacted my kids. When I decided to forgive him, life changed immediately. My whole outlook changed. I felt it. People noticed it.
If someone has 'crossed' you, and you have yet to forgive, I would dare to say that you are still angry. You are still mad. You think about it constantly. It keeps you up at night. You can't seem to let it go. You brood about it. You may turn to vices to help you get through it. You remember every detail of the 'infraction' and you relive it and rehash it over and over. All this serves to do is create stress and strife in your life. It affects your health. It affects your emotions. Is it worth it?
Enter the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a selfish act. Think about it. When you choose to forgive someone, it's a decision that you make, and then you feel better. The other person doesn't have to give you permission to forgive. The other person doesn't have to accept your forgiveness. You alone are in control of having the power to decide to forgive. How awesome is that?
People say to me, "I'm not ready to forgive yet because I don't want that person to get away with it (whatever 'it' might be)." There is a popular misconception that if you forgive someone that it means he isn't going to be held accountable for his actions. That is actually irrelevant. Forgiving someone doesn't mean you aren't going to hold that person accountable. It doesn't mean that you are going to let that person walk all over you. It doesn't mean that there won't be consequences for his actions. It does mean that you are choosing to not dwell on it every day and let anger consume your every thought.
I am repeatedly asked, "Please teach me how to forgive." I don't know how to do that. I wish I did. I want everyone to feel the liberation and peace that comes with forgiveness. Some people like to "own" their anger. They make it a part of their life story and frankly enjoy carrying the burden. I think that's a crazy load to carry. I tell people that forgiveness will happen if they are open to dropping some of the anger and looking forward to the future, instead of dwelling on the past.
The power of forgiveness allows you to feel peace. It doesn't mean you aren't still going to face noise, trouble or hard work. It does mean you can be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart.
Arguably the best-known scholar on forgiveness is Lewis Smedes (1921-2002). Smedes was a professor of Theology and a renowned Christian author who wrote the incredibly popular book, "Forgive and Forget." He said, "Forgiving is love's toughest work, and love's biggest risk. If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator. Forgiving seems almost unnatural. Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do. But forgiving is love's power to break nature's rule."
I challenge you to focus on forgiveness and do all you can to 'break nature's rule!'