a Good Friday gift for those who desire, yet struggle to live “Forgive Them for They Know Not What They Do” Luke 23:34
(Previously available only to my therapy clients)
“To err is human…to forgive is divine” Alexander Pope (18th century English poet)A
While it may not be that only the Divine can forgive, we know, at least that it takes a considerable amount of grace, effort and intentional will to do so. Research abounds identifying the many health benefits of forgiving yet, it remains a challenge for most. Even when the desire is there, the process evades many.
Although forgiveness is a major issue in most couples seeking assistance, it is an art seldom practiced well in our society at large, nor in many families. It is understandable, when injured, the fight or flight response kicks into place. We suffer an amygdala hijack. Literally a primitive part of our brains is activated and under the influence of strong self- preservation brain chemistry and old patterns of neuron firing, we often react. However, we do have a front brain that can learn new behavior and thinking enabling our cooperation with grace to develop the art of forgiving.
Somehow we need to connect to the front brain and yet many have great difficulty doing so initially…Thus it seems to forgive is divine. However, we have access to God, to someone larger in loving than ourselves to aid our growth into learning this art of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a conscious decision, made for the betterment of the self, to keep one from staying stuck in the “victim” role. It also can be motivated by our genuine decision to love not only self, but others, to cultivate virtue. We all “err” at times, and if we get close enough to anyone we will discover this.
So take a breath, first of all and really meditate on that truth. To err is human. We have different strengths and vulnerabilities. What is easy to achieve for some, is hard for others. Perhaps this is the divine design that helps us realize we are interdependent. We do need one another and we need to be forgiven as well as forgive many times over, especially in marriages and families or in communities.
This understood, there is a whole and separate matter regarding reconciliation. Forgiveness does not necessarily equate with reconciliation which may be discerned later. For example, a chronically abusive partner or parent who refuses help may be forgiven, yet not returned to in reconciliation.
The steps to forgiveness can begin regardless of the choice of the one wounding us. Forgiveness does not equate with justifying the wrong or pretending it did not occur. It is rather, a gift one gives oneself, a freeing of the mind to be filled with what feeds vs. robs our souls. We are to give the gift we have been given (1 Peter 4:7-11), so while previously only shared with my clients, I offer a process that aids my own journey into forgiveness.
We begin with calming the overactive or agitated mind, returning to our own center, Christ.
Step One …Breathe and connect to the fact that even in the reactive moment, you can pull aside and connect to your breathing and repeating a word or phrase to calm yourself. As you notice the breath, you can connect to the Source of that breath, your spiritual core, to God, to the One who forgives. Practice this awareness daily to loosen the hold that unforgiving thoughts replaying the wound create in the mind.
Step Two…When the emotional intensity subsides enough even in the moment to notice what occurred, journal, draw or talk to a therapist, pastor, other professional, preferably not a friend or family for whom dual relationships may exist. Externalize your feelings and thoughts in a safe way. Identify them, and do not yet share with the person with whom you are having trouble forgiving. Wait til you are calmed, nonreactive and can share any challenges, not as criticisms, rather as requests if this is someone you will encounter again.
Step Three …Determine not to retaliate overtly or covertly/Examine your history. Allow yourself enough time before interacting with the person by whom you feel injured to notice, where else in your history a similar feeling or event occurred. Identify to whom else this anger or resentment is directed.Is it possible some part, or at least the magnitude, of your feelings relate to some other old wound? If so, focus the anger where it really belongs, and even there, identify what needs to be done for you to heal, not retaliate.
Step Four A… Make a conscious decision to be honest/authentic, but not to stay stuck dwelling on the incident over and over. Stay connected to doing what will heal you. You are not dependent on another’s response to forgive. Forgiveness is not about feelings, but choice.
Four B… If you are fortunate enough to have someone offer to make amends, thank them and be honest about what would actually help you. Be specific and clear. Determine not to continue punishing them either directly or covertly with word or behaviors or even in your mind.
Step Five… Practice daily praying for the person you are choosing to forgive. (Scripture, Compassion Meditation prayer, rosary, Jesus prayer, Divine Mercy).
Step Six …Ask daily, and sometimes moment by moment, for grace from God to forgive and cooperate with that grace. Feed your soul with reading material/media, spiritual food nurturing forgiveness (Scripture, The Process of Forgiveness, book/video by William Meninger, OCSO, Hypnosis for Relationship Imagery or Christian Inner Healing CDs I produce available on www.westhoustontherapy.com). What we dwell on expands.
Step Seven …Reflect on what you might learn from the experience, to carry forward. What lesson is there to be learned for yourself? Or as a couple? What else if anything, can you do to increase the likelihood of relational healing? God brings good even out of our failures.
Repeat and continue with ceaseless prayer until the feelings follow the action and intention.