Friday, August 12, 2011

Triumph Through Forgiveness

Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Other major world religions preach compassion and care for others. But how can we love and be compassionate in a world full of hurt and betrayal, despair and disrespect, pain and anger?

Jesus tells us how. Forgiveness. We are to forgive others as we have been forgiven. But what is forgiveness? It is to let go: to let go of our anger, resentment, hurt feeling, revenge, retaliation.
We forgive because we have been hurt, betrayed, offended, hurt. In the words of psychologist Robert Enright, it means “acknowledging that the offense was unfair and will always continue to be unfair. Second, we have a moral right to anger; it is fair to cling to our view that people do not have a right to hurt us. We have a right to respect. Third, forgiveness requires giving up something to which we have a right—namely our anger or resentment.”

It is one of the most difficult and defining concepts because without forgiveness there is no love. Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims also preach compassion, and we are reminded of the Iranian woman who was blinded by a man she jilted and under Sharia Law, could have exacted revenge by having his eyes plucked out. She chose to forgive.

Forgiving is no easy. How does one forgive a mass murderer? How does a daughter forgive the father who kept her as a prisoner and raped her for decades? How does a son forgive the father who abandoned or abused him? How does a wife forgive the husband who gave her HIV through infidelity? How does a daughter forgive the mother who sold her into prostitution? How does an employee forgive a boss who always puts her down or discriminates against her because of her sex, race, or nationality?

Forgiveness means compassion; it means that we seek to understand and empathize rather than condemn. Hard as it is, it is to put ourselves in the position of the other person. It is to understand that yes, we are human, yes we are weak, yes we are greedy, yes we are ambitious, yes we are fickle, yes we are proud, yes we are jealous, yes deceive, yes we are envious, yes we are always comparing and competing, yes we lie. We usually don’t mean to harm anyone, but think these are the ways to survive, to stay ahead.

So we push drugs because we don’t know what we are doing. Our mind is not right. We think it is more profitable to poison our bodies and societies than look for a 9-5 job. We think it is better to cheat on our poor, or uneducated husband because the rich man or boyfriend can give us toys our husband cannot afford. Maybe he can feed us better. We think it is better to cheat and to lie because they would not accept the truth; they would never understand the truth. We mean well, but we still do wrong.

When we forgive, we let go of the past and the past frees us. Forgiving is liberating and frees us from our past. It releases us from the status of “victims” who have been hurt and empowers us. We take charge of our lives; we take control and are no longer responding to others. Forgiveness lifts and ennobles our spirits.

There is the story of a man who struggled with forgiveness and went to a village elder to ask how to forgive. The old man took him into his kitchen and asked the seeker to name each person/or situation he felt he needed to forgive. As the man named them one by one, the old man carved their names or situations into a potato and placed it into a sack. After the man finished his list, he tied off the sack and handed him, telling the seeker to carry it with him wherever he went for one week and upon his return in 7 days, they would then discuss how one forgives. At first, the weight of the bag was not really that much. The man barely noticed it as he went about his daily tasks. But after a while, he saw that it hindered his ability to move as he wished. And as the days passed, in the heat and elements, that bag began to smell. The seeker was so grateful to return after the seven days and relieve himself of the burden of this sack. “I understand” he said. “When I carry around these offenses, it is my heart and my life that pays the price!”

What then keeps us from understanding and forgiving? One word comes to mind: Ego. Pride. The same reason that causes us to sin, to hurt others, to betray, deceive, annoy others is the same reason that causes us from forgiving.

We are focused solely on ourselves, on our wants and disregard the interest of others. When we are hurt, betrayed, deceived, we are filled with emotion, with anger, resentment, and desire for revenge that we can’t see beyond our wounds and hurt. Ego and pride also keeps us from forgiving. Which we have a right to –a legal right, a moral right. But forgiveness means transcending legality and morality; it means moving beyond our wounded ego and wounded humanity, and reach out to love. For love is the greatest of all things. Even our desire for justice. Justice will not liberate us but merely satiates our appetite for vengeance; only love through forgiveness will heal us. By surrendering to love through forgiveness, by transcending our egos, hurts and wounded feelings, we triumph over the past and over those who have injured us and are liberated.