Forgiveness For Mental Health
I don’t forgive people for them. I forgive people for me.
I was once the kind of person who believed that I could withhold my forgiveness as a form of punishment. I was once the kind of person who didn’t believe in forgiveness. I was once…the kind of person who exercised passive aggression as retribution. I have never found peace in my relations with others, without forgiveness. I’ve tried, oh how I’ve tried. But in my relations with others, all paths after any offense, errors, or omissions lead to forgiveness.
My wife bought tickets to Sea World a few weeks ago. We were going to see my mother in California and then visit Sea World for the holidays. I talked with my mother and we both saw the COVID cases rising. We both decided to cancel the trip. I tell my wife to cancel the trip. She asks me to call Sea World, but they don’t have any human beings answering unless I’m going to buy something. So I send an email. From their reply, I learn that the tickets are non-refundable.
I could fume over her decision to buy the tickets and expect to visit my mother during a pandemic. My wife wanted to stay in a hotel on the way there and on the way back. That’s kind of scary, too. I guess for a time things seemed to stabilize, I don’t know. But it’s looking kind of scary out there.
These are mistakes that could have been avoided, but I forgive her. I didn’t get angry about it. The hotel was canceled and we didn't pay anything yet. The Sea World tickets were extended for another year. Maybe next year. But even if for some reason we don’t go, I still forgive my wife. I know she meant well, so I forgive her.
My kids make messes. This is what kids do in their laboratory called, “the world”. My wife and I were planning on giving them polaroid cameras for their birthdays with film and everything. Well, the younger one got to the package with the film from Amazon before me. She proceeded to open the package, and then she opened the packs of film and she removed the film from their protective foil wrapper. I explained the problem created by this activity and I expressed hope that the film would be OK. I don’t know. But I know that I can replace the film. And I did ask the kids not to open any packages without checking with me first. I forgave them.
I have made tons of messes myself in my life. Missed opportunities, failed relationships, years of addiction, isolation and wandering, not knowing what to do with me, and landing here, in Utah, 700 miles away from my family and friends. I know the mistakes I made to get here. I learned to forgive myself. I kind of imagined my rigid mind as a bar of iron, applied a blowtorch to it, and slowly bent it to meet reality. I repeated this process over and over again until I had a mind that could work with reality. Forgiveness isn’t just to let go of disappointment or offenses. Forgiveness is a reality check.
I forgive people like I do the laundry and pay the bills. Everybody has bills to pay. Everybody has laundry to clean. Everybody has a home to keep. I forgive people and myself over and over again. It is a habit that I’ve adopted in order to stay sane.
Forgiveness allows me to accept things as they are. I don’t have to like it, but I do have to let it be. It’s kind of like being lost and finding oneself on a map. To find your location on a map, you must accept your surroundings and see how they correspond to the map. You must accept your circumstances in order to know where you are. Most of us forgive ourselves for getting lost. I forgive myself for getting lost so that I can acknowledge my position on the map and then make a decision about where I want to go and how to get there.
Forgiveness is what I do to avoid the problem of target fixation. If I don’t forgive someone, then I’m focused on them, not me. If I withhold my forgiveness from someone, that’s on me, not them. They may forgive themselves and they’d be free. But lost in resentment, my failure to forgive prevents me from focusing on me.
A failure to forgive someone assumes that they will change. A failure to forgive also assumes that the offender could have done better. I’ve looked at this over and over again from many perspectives. “He knew better, he intended to do harm.” We if he knew better, why did he proceed to do harm? Why couldn’t he restrain himself from doing harm?
No matter what anyone does, I keep coming back to that question. If someone knew better not to do something, why did they do it anyway? And every time someone does something that they should have known better not to do, I see that same question over and over again. If someone does something they shouldn’t do, that could bring harm to themselves or others, they simply lacked the capacity or skills to do better. The discussion always comes down to that one point. So I forgive.
I forgive and I forgive and I forgive. When I forgive, it doesn’t mean that I support what an offender has done. When I forgive, it doesn’t mean I even have to like the other person. When I forgive, I am allowed to seek restraint over the other person to stop them from doing more harm. When I forgive someone I love, I forgive because I can’t replace the one that I love.
Now I’m not perfect at this. I’m not Jesus. And even he was not that forgiving of the money lenders and the usurers doing business in the church. Even God says, “Vengeance is mine.” But I’m human and humans are fragile.
I forgive because we are fragile. I forgive because everything in my life can be replaced except the people in it. I forgive because I’ve tried the other way and never found any relief from my own suffering without forgiveness. When I forgive someone, I release myself from bondage, I free up my mind to do something better for myself and my brothers and sisters. Forgiveness is like mental floss. I forgive others freely and easily to keep my mind free, so that I may improve myself.
Forgiveness doesn’t make me a doormat, or wishy-washy or weak. Forgiveness gives me the strength to move on because I’m redirecting my energy towards improving my grasp on reality, my relations with others, and to learn from the mistakes of others. Yeah. Forgiveness allows me to better learn from my mistakes and the people around me. Forgiveness is the beginning and the end of a virtuous circle.