“I forgave you long before you asked and long before you said you were sorry.”
The quote is mine, and for many years it has been the way I have approached the way I think about people who have wronged me, or did or said something that hurt me.
The photo I’ve posted with this piece is with my granddaughter. Every day I have the utter pleasure of being able to see her smile and be on the other end of the joy and love she brings to everyone who comes in contact with her.
Although the other night I was sitting on the front porch taking in all the peace and solitude I can enjoy in the evening hours when the kids are in bed, I thought about her and how lucky I am to have such a bright, loving example to follow when it comes to how we should treat each other.
Then, my mind wandered to other child-like examples of how complicated we adults make the world, simply because we’ve forgotten the simple things children can teach us, such as unconditional love and forgiveness.
Quite frankly, and without bragging, my granddaughter simply adores me and she conveys that every time she sees me or hears my footsteps — I wear cowboy boots exclusively and cowboy boots have a sound of their own, even to a small child.
Her eyes light up, she coo’s, she smiles, jumps up and down and her eyes follow me around wherever I walk.
She does those things even if I may not have been completely fast enough in getting her a bottle, changing her diaper or acknowledging her immediately when she tries to get my attention.
I can only assume she forgives me, because within seconds she is right back to giving me those “I love you grandpa” eyes, cooing, laughing and smiling. She even recently gave me a wet, slobber-filled kiss on the lips when I wasn’t expecting it. It was her very first physical showing of affection … and yes, it meant more than she will ever know … or remember.
So, yes, I adore my granddaughter … but while sitting on the porch and thinking about life in general, my biggest wish was I wished adults were more like children when it came to forgiveness.
I don’t include myself in that group of adults simply because I always forgive quickly and long before someone asks.
You’re probably all saying, “Yeah, right,” but it’s the truth. If there is one thing life has taught me, it is forgiveness is the one thing I can give that doesn’t cost a thing, in fact, in the long run, I am also a beneficiary of the forgiveness I give.
Seriously, I am not sure what I would do if I had to carry the burden of holding a grudge, wishing misfortune or holding on to the negative feelings of past transgressions against me or harboring the negativity of vengeance or resentment.
Contrary to popular opinion, if you truly forgive someone you don’t need closure, an explanation or anything else — it’s just not part of the equation to your own happiness.
Forgiveness is the ability to let go of negative feelings associated with something someone has done to harm you. Forgiveness is a conscience, deliberate decision to let all those negative feeling go, without regard to whether someone deserves it or asks for it.
Forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily mean you will forget, nor does it mean you condone their behavior or action, nor does it mean you have to continue a relationship with that person … it just means you’ve let go of the negativity associated with the behavior or action.
But, what true forgiveness does do is free you. Keeping pent-up anger is corrosive and can eat away at you for years upon end.
Forgiveness is good medicine for letting go of the anger, resentment, vengeance and all the other negative feelings felt toward the person that has wronged you, thereby allowing you to both inwardly acknowledge the pain and move on with the more positive feelings in your life, while allowing you to heal from the hurt and pain.
I live a happy life knowing that there is no one I haven’t forgiven … even if they haven’t asked for it or don’t think they did anything wrong … neither of which matters in the grand scheme of life … because, I forgave them anyway.
But, what happens when we have done something that violates our own moral code, or we’ve done something to someone, that if done to us, we would think was egregious?
Feelings that may overcome us and stick with us a long time might be regret, guilt, shame, disappointment or even failure at being a human being … so, what then?
Although they might feel the same, guilt and shame are very different.
Guilt is more a disappointment in ourselves for departing or violating everything we hold dear as a person … in essence, our own moral code or values.
While guilt can be a healthy emotion to get us back on the right track with our values and morals and promote change, shame is a damaging emotion that makes one feel unworthy and damages the way we look at ourselves … in other words, our self-esteem.
As Beverly Engle, L.M.F.T., wrote, “Shame is incredibly unhealthy, causing lowered self-esteem (feelings of unworthiness) and behavior that reinforces that self-image. As we are learning more and more, shame can be an extremely debilitating emotion. … Some have explained the difference between shame and guilt as follows: When we feel guilt we feel badly about something we did or neglected to do. When we feel shame we feel badly about who we are. When we feel guilty we need to learn that it is okay to make mistakes. When we feel shame we need to learn that it is okay to be who we are.”
Engle offers this advice for those struggling with being able to forgive themselves:
“Many people experience a lot of resistance to the idea of self-forgiveness. You may view self-forgiveness as ‘letting yourself off the hook,’ as if self-judgment is the only way to improve. But negative self-judgment and self-blaming can actually act as an obstacle to self-improvement. The more shame you feel about your past actions and behaviors, the more your self-esteem is lowered and the less likely it is you will feel motivated to change. And without self-forgiveness your level of shame will cause you to defend yourself from taking on more shame by refusing to see your faults and not being open to criticism or correction.
” … If you have harmed others and resist forgiving yourself you may ask, ‘Why should I forgive myself? It won’t help those I’ve harmed.’ The most powerful reason: If you do not forgive yourself, the shame you carry will compel you to continue to act in harmful ways toward others and yourself. And forgiving yourself will help you to heal another layer of shame and free you to continue becoming a better human being. Without the burden of self-hatred you have been carrying around you can literally transform your life.”
My life has been transformed over and over again … every time I forgive someone.
In fact, my life is transformed every day when I look in my granddaughters eyes, every time she smiles or coo’s, because I realize her child-like innocence will not last forever, and at some point down the road, her innocence will be lost along the way by carrying around the baggage of an adult through her experiences in life.
Before then, though, I will need to teach her the way of not only forgiving others, even before they ask for it, but to forgive herself, so she doesn’t become burdened with negative feelings associated with guilt, shame and a myriad of other negative feelings she will, no doubt, learn in her journey to adulthood.
As I close, I can hear my granddaughter trying to get my attention with all those baby sounds … ah, what it must be like to not have all the issues of an adult … issues that cause some not to fully be able to fulfill their dreams.
Forgive, find self-forgiveness, but above all … find a way to shine.