As many of us walk through life we are rarely met with actual choices. In theory, we must make hundreds or maybe thousands of choices daily or on a weekly basis, but in application, many of the impasses we encounter have already been decided.
In theory, you had a choice to wake up this morning. In reality, the choice was already made. Did you consciously make the choice when you heard the bells in the morning? Or maybe it was when you set the alarm?
More than likely the choice was made months or even many years ago. More than likely, it was a series of choices that created a habit. It was probably the culmination of choices your parents made for you, motivation stemming from making money, being respected, being independent, etc.
For most of us, the task of making a real choice is a complicated business. We consult, we discuss, we decide, we undecide, we narrow down the options, we assess, we reassess, we become discouraged, we become impulsive, we become indecisive, we eventually decide, or the decision is made for us.
The decision to forgive is often the most inconvenient and disconcerting choice people face. We can be the judge, jury, and executioner in our own institution of discerning the merit of how and if we should extend the apology. We are tabulators of worthiness and emotional accountants of appeals. The choice to forgive is one of the most authentic and pure decisions a person can experience.
The act of forgiveness in its most simple form is an exchange of words between two people. Beyond that, the complexity and convolution grow exponentially. However, the act of forgiveness stays the same. It is a gift, a prayer, it is a choice.
Deep in the mind of every person is a garden hidden from the world that consists of a labyrinth of memories, bitterness, resentment, and acrimony. Deep within this garden we find a person’s historical landscape filled with the pain and affliction that builds over a lifetime.
The time we weren’t invited, the time we found out that our friend was gossiping about us, the time someone forced us into a corner. Our mind registers social rejection similarly to the way it catalogs physical pain. This includes trauma, complex trauma, all forms of abuse, etc. Our mind stores this vital information to safeguard ourselves from future attacks.
The unfortunate part is that our mind becomes our enemy, and we eventually linger in these areas of pain and they become part of our identity. We allow ourselves to indulge in the hurt inflicted on us. Our hurt becomes an endless cycle of being tortured and becoming the torturer. People often say things like “how could you hurt your kids? Weren’t you abused as a kid?”
They are dumbfounded by the concept that a person who was victimized in a certain way could eventually victimize others in the mirror conditions as themselves. The truth is that the farthest place from being tortured is being the torturer. We decide without deciding and a choice is made.
It is with this unconscious choice that we begin to give up freedom in our lives, and we allow ourselves to be held captive by the choices of others. The choice to heal and grow is always within our grasp though. No matter the hurt inflicted, no matter the darkness that has been the backdrop of your life. The power to heal is within.
When forgiveness is not as simple as an exchange between two people, and your historical hurt is immeasurably interlaced and problematic where do you turn? Forgiveness can appear like defeat, it can feel like letting the person off the hook, it doesn’t feel like justice, and it sure doesn’t feel like the right thing to do.
For many, it will never even appear as a choice. It will appear as the culmination of events in which you are the character who was victimized and never made whole. You deserve for that person to right their wrong. You deserve the ability to witness justice. You deserve to have your day in the sun. Or do you deserve to forgive the person or people who hurt you without a single-solitary apology extended?
The single most important decision you will ever make in your life will be accepting Jesus into your life. The second most important decision will be your ability to forgive.
When you recite the Lord’s prayer you ask him for the help to forgive. Not to love. Not to work harder. Not for him to carry out justice on your enemies. You ask him to help you forgive as He forgives. Unconditional forgiveness. Forgiveness is manifested love, and when you love God’s light shines on you.
The act of forgiving can be as simple as “I accept your apology”, “I forgive you”, or a small prayer in which we lift our forgiveness to the lord. Often though I hear people talking about the concept of forgiving and forgetting. The concept of forgiveness and being able to forget is flawed.
The concept is both mutually exclusive, compatible, and nonsensical. You are working with both eyes closed if you are setting the bar of forgiveness within the same general idea of forgetting. Forgiveness is healing. Memory loss is a disease. Forgiving is an act. Forgetting is degeneration.
The act of forgiveness is lost on most of us. I often recommend that people search deep within their gardens to find the elements where they find the most discomfort and pain – the tokens of memories they hide deep within themselves and the inflicted hurt that has caused them to hold their trust as a sacred artifact.
I want them to search out the most vulnerable relics. It is within these bygone mementos that we allow the power of another’s words, actions, and behaviors to enslave us to ourselves.
The importance of symbolism should not be underestimated. The Bible is filled with endless symbolism, rituals, and ceremonies. I have found that the use of symbolism and ceremony can have a profound effect on the act of forgiveness, and often recommend that clients look visually at the gardens in their mind and find tokens that represent the areas of bitterness and contempt.
The journey is normally fraught with anguish and uncertainty. I ask my clients to exhume the tokens in their minds along with a physical token they have found to represent the bitter keepsake they hold within.
When they have collected the items that represent the bitterness in their gardens, they collectively create a ceremony in which they deliver, destroy, or release the items. The act of forgiveness is manifested in a physical commemoration that signifies healing and growth. The act is meant to be experienced and felt as an individual. It is not an outward act of contrition or self-reproach.
It is an inward and personal endeavor to extend mercy and grace to the person who wronged them, while synchronously establishing the inner peace and healing that only comes through the choice of forgiveness.
The concept of forgiveness is at the center of what it means to be a Christian. It is also at the center of what it means to make an authentic and genuine choice. Our choices are often made for us without us putting any mentionable effort into the decision. In the same way in which our decisions are forced upon us, I hope that your ability to forgive is a decision without thought – a habit that has been created over years of practice and implementation.
If you find that you are unable to forgive, I want to challenge you to take the chance on making a choice. Even if it is a small one, it is a choice that could save your life. It’s the choice that could allow you to breathe again, smile once more, and allow beauty and wonder back into the garden of your mind.
“Praying”, Courtesy of Ric Rodrigues, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Forest Stairs”, Courtesy of Rido Alwarno, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Hourglass”, Courtesy of Jordan Benton, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Mountain Temple”, Courtesy of Stijn Dijkstra, Pexels.com, CC0 License