We see it all the time played out in movies and on television. Revenge or vengeance seems appropriate when it makes for a good story line. However, what does our hero always learn in the end? In the final act, when they’ve reached their target and it’s time to pay the piper, what does our hero do? In some cases, they exact their revenge. In others, they turn the offender over to the authorities so that justice might be served.
In any case, our hero learns a valuable lesson and we can too. It might not feel as satisfying at first, but eventually we see the light and hopefully realize that mercy plays an important role in healing. It’s just as important as justice.
You don’t have to be religious to understand the concept of forgiveness. In fact, the best explanation on forgiveness that I’ve read can be found in an article published by staff at the Mayo Clinic. The article is titled, Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness.
There are many articles relating to the topic of forgiveness posted on the Mayo Clinic’s website. The article mentioned above provides a formula for reaching a state of compassion and understanding. I think the most meaningful statement in the article comes near the end under the header, What if the person I’m forgiving doesn’t change?
Changing your offender’s behavior is not the point of forgiveness, paraphrasing what the article says. Rather, paraphrasing again, forgiveness is about changing your life and bringing YOU peace and happiness.
I think it’s worth repeating, but this time in my own words. Forgiveness is not something you do to someone else. You cannot expect your offender to change their actions because you decide to forgive them. Neither must you condone their actions, rather, in order for you to move forward and find peace you must let go of feelings of resentment and a need for reconciliation and simply forgive. It’s a process you do for yourself in order to find peace.
I heard a sermon this past weekend by a friend and neighbor, Patrick McGee, which inspired me to write this blog about forgiveness. He said, “Forgiveness is the key to our own personal freedom.”
This follows right in line with the closing statement by Mayo Clinic Staff in the article referenced above. They reiterated, “Remember, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever the outcome, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.”
There is a film that my wife loves to watch every Christmas Eve as we stay up late wrapping gifts. It’s called, You’ve Got Mail, directed by Nora Ephron and produced by Warner Brothers in 1998. It stars Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as book store competitors who unknowingly are email pen-pals. There’s a dialogue in the film where Meg Ryan’s character finally develops the courage to insult her rival, Tom Hanks. To this point in the movie she feels that if she could say the right thing at the right time and put her enemy in his place then she might feel better about herself, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself she immediately feels remorseful for being mean.
It’s so poignant and to the point that I’ll share it with you. I’m quoting from the writers of You’ve Got Mail.
Tom Hanks’ character, Joe Fox writes, “Do you ever feel you’ve become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora’s box of all the secret, hateful parts-your arrogance, your spite, your condescension-has sprung open? Someone upsets you and instead of smiling and moving on, you zing them. ‘Hello, it’s Mr. Nasty,’ I’m sure you have no idea what I’m talking about.”
Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly responds, “No, I know what you mean, and I’m completely jealous! What happens to me when I’m provoked is that I get tongue-tied and my mind goes blank. Then I spend all night tossing and turning trying to figure out what I should have said.”
Later on in the movie, Kathleen Kelly is confronted by Joe Fox and she has a breakthrough. She easily insults him, but immediately regrets her behavior.
Just before the final act there is a turning point in their contentious relationship where Joe Fox talks about forgiveness which sends Kathleen Kelly on a personal journey of hope and peace and eventually, forgiveness.
I recommend the film. It’s a bit sappy, but it’s a great family film for the holidays and a great object lesson in forgiveness and healing.
In my closing remarks, I’d like to reiterate two points from the Mayo Clinic article, “You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.” Do yourself a favor and learn how to forgive and let go of resentment. Imagine a world where everyone forgives.
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