Forgiveness: How Do You Know When You've Forgiven?

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Forgiveness: How Do You Know When You've Forgiven?

Forgiveness: How Do You Know When You’ve Forgiven?

Forgiveness has been something I have struggled to understand my whole life, because I wanted to get it “Right’.  I wanted to do it right.  I knew that if I didn’t, it could have grave repercussions.

I started to learn in grade school what forgiveness was.  I thought I understood it on an intellectual level.   We would go on retreats in high school, and part of the retreat would be to concentrate to find all the people I needed to forgive, and do it in my heart.  I searched and searched, and felt like a failure during that portion.  I didn’t really have anything significant or anyone that needed forgiveness.

I didn’t recognize any hatred, or animosity, and even anger toward anyone that needed forgiveness in my life.  No one had harmed me to the point that I dwelt on it.  No hurt lingered and festered.

Now I look back, and I miss those days.  Those were days of innocence.  No one was out to harm me, to steal from me, to damage my reputation.   The biggest hurts were boys who noticed someone more than myself, and a mother who disciplined me. (Thank God for that! )

In my 20’s,  I entered the age when people saw me as easy prey.  I didn’t even realize the damage they were causing sometimes.  I was naive, and forgiving, and that was another blessing.  I called it “Merciful”.  I believed that God had given me an extra ordinary gift of Mercy towards others. He had been Merciful with me, and I did not harbor any resentments or anger.  I looked at the situations obliquely, and saw the objective perspective, and was empathetic.

When I was 30, I got married, and entered the business world in a new way.   Suddenly I was truly exposed on all sides: Emotionally, Financially, and Intellectually.  I was trusting, and so was my husband.  We trusted those who did not have our best interests at heart. Actually he was more trusting than I was, which led to more chances to forgive.  Marriage in general, had given me a whole new host of opportunities to forgive as well.

Some of my darkest days were in my 30’s.  My faith was challenged by the betrayals I experienced.   I was never angry at God, but the hurt was so immense, it was crushing.  There were hurts that were unexplained.  People I knew that would never ask for forgiveness.  I was no longer naive, and it affected my whole perception of the world. How was I to move forward with forgiveness?   How would I know if I was successful at it?  What happened to my gift of Mercy?

Now I had a whole new challenge.  Part of me was excited!  Now I really have things to forgive!  The emotions were persistent.  I was drawn to tears at the mere mention of incidents.  Certain words were trigger points for anxiety.  I had been traumatized, and it affected my whole being.

So I went through it logically.  Firstly, I had to say it to myself.  I forgive each one of them, and look at my responsibility in the situation.  This did not change my emotions.  The anger wasn’t removed, the sadness wasn’t removed.  But it was step one.  Step 2.  Think consciously, and pray for the best for each one.  Part of that best would be that they would recognize and repent of their actions of course.  I had to actively desire for that person’s happiness, and conversion.  Step 3.  I would picture scenarios of my meeting them in public.  I would say kind words to them, and maybe give them a hug.  Step 4.  Let time pass, and heal my wounds.  As the years passed, and the sting was not quite as harsh, and I was not reminded daily of the hurts, I felt more at peace. I asked God for peace.    Step 5. Make contact. (this is not advisable for all parties)  Although I knew I would not make myself as vulnerable again to these individuals, now older ,and wiser, I accepted limited contact with people who had caused me harm.  I was able to show, and share some of those things that I practiced in my head and heart. I was cordial, and kind.

How do you know if you have arrived at forgiveness?   Personally, I’m still not convinced that I am totally done.  I’m not sure there is an arrival.  I think I have made great strides.  I can say that I wish no harm, or ill to befall those who have harmed me.  I can say that I do love each one.  I can look at the situations obliquely again, and see their weakness and how it contributed to the fall in combination with my own weaknesses.  I can say, that Jesus can’t forgive me, if I am not willing to forgive others, and that is a strong motivator to get on with it.

Copyright 2013 Paulina Ross

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