Consider Giving the Gift of Forgiveness This Year
In the season of giving, one of the most beautiful gifts you might consider giving is forgiveness. The ideas that forgiving is a gift to those who have hurt you sometimes gets forgiveness into trouble. In other words, people think it is irrational to consider offering a gift to those who are unfair. The typical reasons for this resistance to forgiveness as gift-giving are these:
- It is dangerous to reach out to those who act unfairly because I am open to further abuse.
- My gift-giving might be a signal to the misbehaving others that their actions are acceptable, which they are not.
- Gift-giving to those who acted unfairly seems counter-intuitive to my own healing. I need to move on and not focus on this other person.
The ideas above can be countered this way: With regard to (A), you do not necessarily have to reconcile with an unrepentant person who keeps harming you. You can give your gift from a distance, such as a kind word about the person to others or an email so that you can keep your distance if this is prudent to do so. With regard to (B), you can forgive and ask for justice. Forgiving never means that the other just goes ahead as usual with hurtful behaviors. In other words, if you decide to forgive, you can and should ask for fairness from the other person. With regard to (C), forgiveness will seem counter-intuitive as goodness to those who are not good to you only if your focus is entirely on justice or a fair solution to the problem. If you begin to see that mercy (in the form of forgiving) and justice can and should exist side-by-side, then perhaps this idea of forgiveness as a contradiction or as inappropriate or as somehow odd may lessen in you.
Forgiveness can be a gift in these ways:
- As you forgive, you are giving the other person a second chance at a trustworthy relationship with you. Of course, trust takes time to develop, but forgiveness opens the door, even if a little, to trying the trust-route with the other who behaved unjustly.
- Forgiveness can be a merciful way of showing the other what the injustice actually is (or was), making possible positive change in the other. Those who behave badly and are offered this mercy may begin to see the unfairness more clearly and have the inner conviction that change indeed is necessary.
- Forgiveness can be a gift to yourself as you shed abiding anger that could have been yours for many years. You have a second-chance at stronger mental health.
- As you reduce toxic anger, this actually can be an aid in strengthening your relationships with people who were not the ones who acted badly. After all, when people carry around a lot of anger in their hearts, they can displace that anger onto unsuspecting others. Your forgiving one person, then, can be a gift to others who do not have to endure your displaced anger.
So, then, what do you think? Do you see that in the season of giving, one of the most beautiful gifts you might consider giving is forgiveness?
Pope Francis: Forgiveness Enlargens the Heart
Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, used his homily on the day after Christmas–the feast day of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr–to encourage the approximately 1.3 billion baptized Catholics worldwide to be more forgiving.
“We are called to learn from him (St. Stephen) to forgive, to always forgive, and it is not easy to do, we all know,” the 82-year-old Pope said. “Forgiveness enlarges the heart, generates sharing, gives serenity and peace.”
More than 25,000 people converged on St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 26 to hear Pope Francis talk about St. Stephen who was not only martyred for his religious beliefs but who even forgave those who were taking his life while he was being stoned to death. His last words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” are recorded in Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 7:54-60).
St. Stephen was one of the first ordained deacons of the Church (in Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches, a deacon is an ordained minister of an order ranking below that of priest). He is credited with many miracles performed during his short 34-years of life.
Read more: Pope Francis message during Christmas: A life of greater simplicity and forgiveness (a 2:48 video by Rome Reports)