Forgiveness Might Just Start With Self-Examination
Physical scars usually disappear over time or with skillful surgery. But the scars that never were physical wounds heal only when we forgive unconditionally. Until we remove those scars through unconditional forgiveness we can’t love nor be loved in the fullest measure. Forgiveness is an act which produces a greater effect in the actor than in the beneficiary of the act—John A. Warnick
You are no doubt familiar with this challenge: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” These words were spoken by a Man who would later forgive even those who wrongfully took his life.
I recently spoke with a client who was harboring resentment towards a sibling and who was struggling with my suggestion she might benefit greatly if she could find a pathway to forgive. I sensed that she, like many of us, justify our refusal to forgive on the grounds that there are some things that just aren’t humanly possible to do.
In his 1957 sermon, “Loving Your Enemies,” Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledged just how difficult it is to love your enemy and offered this suggestion: “(w)e begin to love our enemies and love those persons who hate us, whether in collective life or individual life, by looking at ourselves...In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self.” He noted that in this analysis we may find that we have done something in the past “deep down” that made this person our enemy.
Even if we haven’t wronged our enemy, Dr. King urged us to realize “each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality...there is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul revolting against the North of our soul...There is something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different directions....There is something within each of us that makes us to cry out with Apostle Paul, ‘I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do.’”
As we look carefully into the mirror of self-introspection, it empowers us to take a different attitude towards others, even those who have wronged us. Again, in the words of Dr. King: “The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls “the image of God,” you begin to love him...find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.”
Forgiveness is a powerful gift. It is a gift not only to the person we forgive but also to ourselves. For in forgiving we free ourselves from the prisons of anger, blame, hate, resentment, and vengeance.
Is there someone within your circle of influence who has wronged you and whom you haven’t forgiven? What would the gift of forgiveness mean to that individual and to you? How might the suggestions of Dr. King that we examine our own life and concentrate on the goodness in the life of the person who has wronged us be first steps down the pathway to forgiveness.
An apology must be sincere, and it must be perceived as sincere. “If you going to bow, bow low,” says Eastern wisdom. “Pay the uttermost farthing,” says the Christian Ethic—Stephen R. Covey