Breaking Free from Bitterness. The Transforming Power of Forgiveness

Bitterness is toxic!  No kidding, eh!  The cause of bitterness, whether it is towards another person, a situation or ourselves, is almost always unforgiveness.  The ability to forgive is key as we learn to walk in greater freedom from guilt, shame, anger, and fear.

In short, forgiveness is the pardon of an offense or debt owed to / perpetrated on you by someone else.  It is the giving up all hope for a different past - the idea that by holding on to an offense we can somehow change the past.

Forgiving other peopleYou haven't lived if you haven't been hurt by another person.  By being deliberate to accept your feelings and your sense of violation, you can begin the walk to forgive and freedom.  One needs to accept feelings of hurt and offense because we can't be free if we don't accept we are in bondage to them.

Forgiveness is a choice. We choose to surrender our right to a debt and allow the person to go free - debt free.  This is not as easy as it sounds.  It can take many times of choosing to forgive as we process through the pain.  Remember, forgiveness doesn't mean what happened is somehow okay now.  Forgiveness means that even though it was wrong, and we are hurt, we are releasing them.  This doesn't mean they don't face the natural consequences of their actions - there may be legal ramifications.  Nor does it mean you indiscriminately open yourself up to be hurt further.    By forgiving other people, it frees you from the psychological bondage of a festering hurt and fixating on the offense and the persons responsible.  While the past cannot be changed, the present and future can be different!

Forgiveness in Situations.

Some things are the way they are and can't be easily changed.  People lose jobs, car accidents happen, illness happens.   There is a natural process, not unlike mourning in these situations, but in railing against situations that cannot be changed, we concoct the toxic brew of bitterness within us.   In many of these situations, the healthy response is one of acceptance.  By accepting a situation that is unchangeable, does not mean what happened is good, right or the will of God.  It just means there are certain realities of living in a finite and broken world.

Acceptance of a situation is not the right course of action if you are within your power to affect a positive change - call the police, leave a situation that is irreconcilable, to work to change laws, etc.  To this end, the Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous brings balance.

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Forgiving Ourselves.

Many, many people struggle with forgiving themselves.   Through mistakes we have made, the pain we have caused ourselves and others, many of us find ourselves lugging a heavy suitcase full of shame, guilt, and anger.  The weight of this suitcase takes its toll on us - diminishing our sense of general well-being.

Many of us have to choose to go through that suitcase and give ourselves the gift of forgiveness.  Some of us have to make a choice to throw the suitcase into the ocean and let it be taken away on the tides.  The Serenity Prayer above applies here as well.  It is abusive to keep beating ourselves for things we cannot change.  There is nothing noble in continuing to do so.  Those things that we can, we take responsibility and start towards making those changes.

Some of us need to choose to release ourselves from unreasonable expectations.  Expectations of perfection, the taskmaster of hindsight and often, religious obligation that also demands perfection and toil are a deadly trifecta.  By looking at how these manifest can offer insight to the root and then we can see the dis-health in the expectation.   For example, many of us are driven for the acceptance of others.  Failure to perform manifests more guilt and shame.   Recognizing this, we can then begin a shift to understand that our value as a person is not based on our ability meet others expectations.  As this reality takes hold in our lives, it expels the shame, guilt, and anger of failing to meet unhealthy expectations.

Forgiveness is a Gift and a Choice.

For people in the Christian faith, forgiveness from God is a gift, not something that is earned.   I know this may be contrary to the practice and experience of many Christians but in fact of faith, love and its acceptance and forgiveness precede repentance or getting one's poop in a group!  The idea being that we respond in healthy ways to the demonstration of love and mercy and learn to reciprocate - we learn to love, accept and forgive others.   Love comes from God and love is the source of forgiveness.   When we make the choice to forgive there is also a supernatural grace afford to us (all of us).   Even with supernatural grace, it can still be very difficult to choose and keep choosing to forgive.  Regardless, something quite wonderful happens  as we do, as Richard Rohr writes:

"When we forgive, we choose the goodness of the other over their faults; we experience God’s goodness flowing through ourselves; and we experience our own goodness in a way that almost surprises us. This is an awesome coming together of one flow of power, both human and divine at the same time."

Forgiveness Frees our Future.

Dr. Fred Luskin, Ph.D. also rightly points out that if we choose to hold onto our hurt and offense, we are "pre-judging" our future.  Because of the pain, we tend to be more guarded, suspicious and not as free to make positive choices.  This residual bitterness makes us less hopeful about the future as in a sense we are connected to unresolved issues in our past.  Luskin suggests forgiveness allows us the gift of a fresh start regardless of the scale of the offense.  Luskin writes:  "At some point, you can say that this awful thing has happened to me. It hurt like hell, yet I am not going to allow it to take over my life."   Choosing to forgive is a great way to reclaim the present and the future!

Take Away

1) Forgiveness frees you from bitterness.  It is a gift you give to yourself.
2) Forgiveness is needed in many spheres: other people, situations and ourselves.
3) Forgiveness is a choice.
4) Forgiveness comes with super natural grace.
5) Forgiveness is a fruit of love.
6) Forgiveness doesn't mean the offense is somehow right or good.
7) Forgiveness is letting go of the past.
8) To live in community, with others is to live forgiving.

9) Be Kind to yourself - give yourself the Free Gift of forgiveness.
10) Serenity Prayer

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

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