Sometimes the simplest little things can have big impact on our lives. In this series of posts I examine very short sentences (each just three words long) that can make a difference in your life. If you have a three word sentence that changed your life somehow, share it with me and I will share it with the world.
I won’t pretend to understand the unbelievable grief that can overcome you at the loss of a loved one, especially if the loss was caused intentionally or unintentionally by someone else. We see it on the news all the time – horrific accidents that leave people dead, many caused by drunk drivers, or shootings either intentional or of innocent bystanders. We sympathize with the people left behind and share some of their pain as they weep on camera for the ever present and callously intrusive media.
Occasionally, usually months later, there will be a follow-up story about the person who caused the death being sentenced for whatever charges were brought, from manslaughter to negligent homicide to murder. In many of those cases the convicted perpetrator faces the family of the deceased and apologizes for what happened (some do not). In a few cases I have watched the reports as the remaining family members express forgiveness to the accused. I have always wondered at that. How could they, while still in mourning and with obvious grief still a part of their lives, bring themselves to forgive the person who caused the death of their loved one?
Often the media will pursue these people with that very question, not content to have been an interloper in the original incident. The reporter shoves a microphone into the faces of the family and asks them how they could do that, how they could forgive the killer of their loved one? There seems to be an interesting and telling similarity in many of the replies, “How could we not forgive?”
Even as I can’t get my head around their level of initial grief, I have difficulty assimilating that reply, too. I know that it is the right reply, the only reply that makes sense in the long run. It is what the teachings of our religious beliefs prepare us to do, yet it is hard to imagine in practice. It requires strength of character that most of us will never have to test and I think most are suspect of in ourselves. Yet, what is the alternative?
Holding on to anger and grief and continuing to direct it against someone else does nothing good for you or them. Letting go of those feelings by forgiving the other person brings closure to things and frees you to move on in life. It may have a positive effect on the other person, too. We occasionally see stories that follow up years later about how the original perpetrator turned their life around, in part because they were forgiven for their tragic mistake.
As we look at how to apply this in our more mundane daily lives, there are many little things that can happen – a partner forgetting an anniversary or other special occasion, a spouse who comes home drunk or who stays out too late, an agreement in which hurtful words are exchanged. In those cases, too, it is important to be able to say, “I forgive you” and move on. Now, this is not to say that the abused spouse or partner in a bad domestic situation should just keep saying I forgive you and allowing the abuse to continue. That is not the case and help should be sought in that case. There may be an opportunity later for forgiveness.
But for those other, minor things in life that are disappointing or angering, It is important to be able to forgive and, if not forget, at least move on. Most of the time the forgiveness can be silent but sometimes it is important to say it out loud and to the other person. Sometimes they’ve been wallowing in remorse over the incident and didn’t know how to make things right. Saying, “I forgive you” makes it right on many different levels.
Are you carrying around some burning little ball of bitterness over something, some rancid little dollop of hate or disappointment that you can’t seem to get rid of? Try this. Confront the person that caused this and say, “I forgive you.” If you can bring yourself to say that and mean it, a great weight will be lifted from you and you will know peace and be able to get on with life. While only God can forgive our sins, it is within our own power to forgive each other. From my tip from a couple of days ago – just do it.