Forgiveness. It’s one of the toughest things to do. I wonder how many of us DON’T have someone in our lives that we haven’t been able to forgive? Of course, at the core of it all is the problem we have forgiving ourselves.
Who can’t remember things they’ve done that they regretted? Sometimes it was a mistake, an accident, something beyond our control that just happened. It hurt others and we felt sorry. We wished we could just rewind the tape and change it. Too bad, that only happens in science fiction.
Or does it?
Think about what happens when you remember something. Actually, you time travel. Your mind goes back in time to “remember” what happened. Your attention shifts from now to then and you think about something in the past. We all know about the “fish story” phenomenon, how the fish gets bigger over time in memory.
The same principle is at play with all our memories. Every time we travel back to revisit them they change. Why is that? Because WE are changing. Same thing happens when we go back to some place we used to live or visit. Wow, what happened? It seems so different, even though it may not have changed at all. The most common example is going back to visit the school you attended as a child. The desks are so small now! How could they have shrunk so much?
We live, we grow, we change. Our perceptions change and we see the world differently, including our memories. As for forgiveness, it’s likely that we are torturing ourselves with memories that are no longer accurate. The fish has grown over the years! No wonder we find it difficult to forgive… we are trading in fantasy.
I’ve found there’s a much more effective strategy for forgiveness than trying to “settle the score” with someone. Instead of trying to come to terms with injustice, make amends, etc., it’s much easier to focus on providing what was missing back then. For instance, you may have a memory of being unkind to a friend. Well, as you recall the event, why not focus an attitude of kindness towards them now? Just because they aren’t around to notice doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference. You’re here, you notice, and it can profoundly alter how you feel both about the memory and also about yourself. You can begin to experience yourself being kind.
What if all those wounds were learning opportunities? What if no one is keeping score, that God is not like Santa Claus, poised to withhold gifts if we misbehave?
Our book Forgiving the Unforgivable is a formidable title that details how 25 of us were able to forgive the terrorists who attacked us in Mumbai in 2008, even though they killed two of our closest friends. But all of us have our challenging events and I suggest you try this approach to forgiveness. You might just find yourself liberated!