Forgiveness - a Powerful Tool for Healing
I have been blown away by the response to the bullying campaign and I would like to thank all of you who have contributed (and those who continue to do, and those that will in the future). Please do not stop, the work is just starting and there is so much still left to do. Ok, enough of that. Having read Kevin Leland's excellent article on dealing with bullies. Before you read what I write here, I highly recommend reading what he wrote and then we can come back over here and talk. So click here and have a read.
You may find that what I write is somewhat at odds with what Kevin has had to say, or you may not. What this article is doing is showing another point of view on such a sensitive and painful area. I am not saying that I am right or wrong and I am not saying anyone else is right or wrong. That is not my place. I just want to write from the heart and throw what I have out there and hope it helps people deal with stuff, open up to stuff and to encourage constructive debate.
When people mention forgiveness, there are so many images that are conjured up and not all of them good - the kind Christian in a plaid skirt being slapped and smiling whilst turning the other cheek is the one that I get sometimes when I try to talk to people about forgiveness. Many think that forgiveness is weakness. Many think that forgiveness is easy. Many think that forgiveness is just shrugging the shoulders and being indifferent. All of these assumptions are untrue, and I will tell you why. But first I want to define forgiveness. I will give the dictionary definition and then give the biblical one.
The Free Dictionary defines forgiveness as:
"Compassionate feelings that support a willingness to forgive"
"An act of excusing a mistake or offence; a pardon by treating the offender as if the offence had not occurred"
Both of these are true and do, in some way describe forgiveness. It does go a little deeper than that, though, and that is what makes it hard sometimes. The Greek word for forgiveness comes from the same word that means Grace (Charis). Its full meaning is to "free fully, release, pardon, to send forth (put away), to grant a favor." This means to forgive someone is releasing it completely and fully, much like writing off a debt. Well that hardly seems fair, I hear you say. It is like letting them get away with it. It may appear that way, letting the bullies (or those that hurt you in any other way) off the hook. But what it really means at its core is that truly forgiving someone means that whatever they did loses its ability to hurt you. Sometimes when you are angry, frustrated and bitter at someone (or about something), it is you that gets hurt and it does not affect the person that you have the problem with (unless, of course, you confront them). Sometimes, the person you are angry or upset with could be blissfully unaware of the damage that they have caused whilst you continue to stew in your own frustration. So in order that this is clear, I just want to leave you with some 'Is's and Isn't's about forgiveness...
Forgiveness is NOT:
A nice, warm, fuzzy feeling. For the most part it can be hard. Forgiveness is an act, something you decide to do. It is something that despite what we feel for that person, we must choose to let the anger, resentment and bitterness go. Or if you must be angry (because God said, "Be angry and do not sin "), use it to do something constructive and positive.
Forgetting what was done to you - that would be impossible and unfair. We are not expected to forget that bad things have happened to us. But like I explained earlier, forgiveness allows the events to affect you as much (or at all) as you allow. You have your part to play; stop acting out the thing, do not dwell on it (easier said than done). You will still have memory but it will slowly but surely cease to cause pain.
The other person saying sorry - The person who hurt you will not always know what they have done and sometimes they may not care. Holding on to your right to be hurt, upset, frustrated will not help you and may in fact cause you to be sick. Forgiveness frees you from that. The process may not be pleasant, but it is worth it. Trust me, I know. There are a few things that I am working out at the moment and one that I just did and I realise that it is not really about the other person, it is about you, your heart and your attitude. You control that, not the other person.
A decision - yes, it is a tough one, but you do have to make it.
A process - which means action on your part. It means being willing to learn and confront things in your own heart and life and deal with them. So be patient and don't rush. I am not saying continue to wallow in self-pity. Start the journey and it will take you far.
About healing and restoration - to God, to others even to yourself. Like I have said, it does not excuse the hurt but it does help remove the sting from the hurt, leaving you free to live your life. Like Jerry said, it can make you stronger.
When dealing with bullying, forgiveness can be the last thing on your mind. It was certainly the last thing on mine at the time. It has been a long long road with a few pitfalls. Forgiveness is not an easy thing despite what people say. Forgiving others for hurting you is one thing, forgiving yourself (for being a victim, for feeling helpless, for guilt, shame . . . whatever) is on a whole new level of difficult . . . and definitely not for wimps. So for all of you out there who don't know what to do and are victims of bullying, try not to blame yourself for anything and in time release forgiveness both for yourself and to those who hurt you. I am not asking you to forget, that would be a stupid thing to ask, I am not even asking that you like the person (although some people find that they can...but forgiveness is not about liking the person), it is about letting go . . . .
Take care and God Bless readers and writers.
Ngozi Nwabineli © August 2009, modified October 2009