Anne Lamott once wrote that resentments are like trying to kill the rat by drinking the rat poison yourself (Traveling Mercies). This is one of the elusive points about forgiveness. the person most likely to benefit from forgiving is the forgiver!
A resentment is basically an unexpressed anger or hurt. Something happens to us. We feel hurt or angry. But we decide to remain silent, perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of a desire for payback. We hold onto the resentment like a well-kept weed.
Think for a moment about a resentment you are holding. Does that person’s image give you a knot in your stomach? Up your heart rate? Carrying resentments are indeed bad for your physical health.
Beyond that, resentments are bad for your spiritual health. Resentments are the spiritual equivalent of cancer, eating away at you. Eroding any sense of inner peace.
Keep in mind that forgiveness does not mean condoning. The harm done to you may be inexcusable.
The first and most important step in forgiving is the decision to forgive. Our resentments are there for protection, keeping others at a distance. Forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean letting someone back into your life. But it does mean letting go of the need to be on guard.
Paradoxically, to forgive we have to embrace our anger, even our rage. We can’t let go of anything without walking through that fire. Thus, if you say “Oh. I forgave that person” but never felt the hurt and anger that went with that person’s offense, then your forgiveness is only an intellectual exercise.
Finally, forgiveness does not necessarily imply staying in a relationship. Some people don’t change and so are just as dangerous as when we first were hurt. Others could care less about us forgiving them.
So, if you want to forgive a person you love, talk it out with them to see if your hurt can be released. Be honest about what hurt you and be patient with any defensiveness.
If you need to forgive someone with whom you will not stay in a relationship, try writing a letter that is not mailed. And (even more difficult) imagine good things happening to that person. If you need to forgive someone who has crossed over, try reading your letter at a graveside or simply out loud. Then do a ritual of release, perhaps by burning your letter.
All is much, much easier said than done. So try not to judge yourself if forgiveness is hard to some by. For many of us, forgiveness is like an onion. We peel off a layer only to find more layers.
As you work on forgiveness, you may come upon one unpleasant realization. the one person you may need to forgive most is looking at you in the mirror!
Reflections: What resentments are you harboring? What keeps them in place?
Further reading: Emmet Fox The Sermon on the Mount;