You have probably heard personal growth gurus talk about the need to forgive for our own mental health. Some time ago I posted on Facebook about the need to forgive and it created a firestorm! I couldn’t figure out why so many people were actually offended by me expressing a concept which was so clearly obvious it shouldn’t even have needed to be stated.
But then I realized that the problem wasn’t a problem with the concept, the problem was a problem with language. Sometimes language can be very limiting when trying to express a concept. Especially when one word is used for more than once concept.
For example, this weekend, my four year old grand daughter told me, “Grandma, I love you.” I said, “I love you too, Tzipporah” and then she said, “Grandma, do you know what else I love?” “I also love chips. Can I have a chip?” Everyone knows that we use the one word – Love for two different concepts. Tzippy enjoys chips, she desires to consume chips, chips give her immense pleasure. Ok, but that’s not the same thing as the love we have for a person. For a four year old they might be closely related, but not for an adult. Everyone knows that those two concepts are very different even though we use the same words.
And yet, when it comes to the word forgiveness, people don’t seem to be aware of the fact that the word “forgive” is used for two completely different concepts.
When a person hurts you, you justifiably experience not just feelings of pain, but also anger towards the person who caused the injury. We all know that holding on to anger causes all kinds of problems for us, not just emotional, but also physical. People who hold on to anger experience much higher incidences of high blood pressure, heart attacks, migraines, weight gain and a host of other physical symptoms that can be shown to have a correlation to anger.
Plus, there’s another problem. When we hold on to anger, and re-visit the injury that has been perpetrated against us, its like we are virtually giving the person who injured us the power to continue hurting us, over and over and over again. Its been said that we are allowing them to live rent-free in our head. “kick them out” is the advice given. But how do we do that?
Forgiving is the act of letting go and giving up our of our right to continue to be hurt by another’s actions. Its an absolutely crucial component in healing from pain and trauma.
But how can I forgive someone who hasn’t asked me for forgiveness, who won’t admit that they hurt me in any way? Or even if they did ask me for forgiveness, how can I let someone off the hook, especially if what they did was really life shattering – things like abuse, rape, murder, and other things like that?
People would tell me, as their coach, I want to move on, but what this person did to me is unforgivable.
They had a point. A valid point. But the more this point kept coming up, the more I had to work to figure out what was wrong. It was then that I realized that we didn’t have a conceptual problem, we had a language problem.
Because there is a difference between forgiving and pardoning. Now, I use the word pardon to describe the other concept.
Pardoning a person is no longer counting a person’s actions, no longer holding them guilty for something they did in the past, essentially, wiping their slate clean. The definition of pardon is the release from the penalty of an offense. In Jewish law – this – pardon (which we unfortunately often use the word forgive for) is something that can only happen when the guilty party asks for forgiveness from the one that they injured. In Jewish tradition, God will only forgive us (or better put – pardon us) for sins committed against another person, when we have first asked forgiveness from that person.
So, its really important here for us to understand that there is a material difference between forgiveness – which is something that you must do for your own emotional and spiritual health and so that you can move forward with your life – and pardon, which is helping the other person move forward by no longer being obligated to punishment for the offense which they committed. It is counting their act of confession or repentance as punishment in full, which is sometimes something we can do and sometimes it isn’t. But we absolutely must learn to let go of our right to continue to be hurt unless we want to be victims for our entire lives.
A victim does not experience joy. A person who has let go of the hurt is the person who can experience joy.
What pain are you holding on to that is preventing you from experiencing joy? Its time to forgive and to move on and to choose joy.