Forgiveness is something we hear a lot about, and sometimes think a lot about and hopefully try to do on a regular basis. In counseling, forgiveness is a common topic in secular as well as faith-based counseling. Many people that I speak with will say something like “I know I have to or should forgive…” There is a degree of understanding in most of us that forgiveness plays a role in helping us get past difficult situations. There is also quite often significant resistance to actually forgiving when we have been deeply wounded by the actions of another person.

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Fred Luskin gave an interesting perspective when he stated that “the essence of forgiveness, is after grieving to be a peace with no. The no coming from not getting what I wanted in any certain situation”. Our focus is usually on the hurt and pain we received that we did not want. The painful experience said “no”, you are not getting the love, or peace, or acceptance, or whatever it was that we wanted to get. I heard another great perspective on forgiveness many years ago: Forgiveness is giving up our right to get even. We seem to have a build-in mechanism the says when someone hurts us we have the right to get even. This is the “eye for an eye, tooth for tooth” law of retaliation. Whatever was done to me, I have the right to do to the one who hurt me. A part of forgiving is giving up that “right” to get even.

Several years ago heard a great illustration of giving up our right to get even. Two little boys were playing in their daycare. We will call them Johnny and Billy. One day, while they were playing Johnny, swung his truck and it Billy in the head. What did Billy do? He swung his truck and hit Johnny in the head. His little mind believed he had the right to get even. The next day when they were playing, Johnny again hit Billy with his truck, and just as Billy was swinging ‘to get even’, Billy’s mother walked in the room. “No Johnny, No! That is a bad thing to do! You tell Billy you are sorry for hurting him.” Now Billy has a problem. His innate belief is telling him he has the right to get even and his mom is telling him it is a bad thing to do. The next day true to form, Johnny smacks Billy, and Billy grabs his truck… looks around the room to see if mom is there… then smacks Johnny with his truck! He was getting even while trying to not get in trouble! As adults, we do the same thing, though we look for more sophisticated ways of doing so. We may get even by being harsh with our words or making things more difficult for the person who has hurt us or spreading slanderous statements about them. We are not ‘hitting with trucks’ but we are getting even. Choosing not to get even is hard. I guess no one said “turning the other cheek would be easy.”

We will look at some things forgiveness is not, in the next post.

I would love you to hear your ideas.

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