How to Forgive
In studying the great spiritual teachers over the years, it has been clear to me that forgiveness is essential to a healthy life. Jesus harps on forgiveness repeatedly. The great psychotherapist Dr. Carl Simonton claimed that the first characteristic in people who are especially vulnerable to disease is a strong tendency to hold resentment and marked inability to forgive.
While these lessons have come to me largely as academic, theoretical understandings rather than through my everyday experience, it now seems everywhere I turn God, or the spirit of the cosmos, or however you refer to the greater power is saying, "It is time now for you to be an agent of the power of forgiveness." In many ways, I see this happening as a movement in the world touching all of us. Everywhere I turn, I'm existentially learning what power the instrument of forgiveness is in your life
Last year, I interviewed author Connie Domino about her book The Law of Forgiveness on Oprah's Soul Series radio show. The ripple effects of that interview in addition to reading and sharing her book with listeners, friends and members of my beloved community, All Saints, have literally rocked my life's foundations.
After reading and following the advice of The Law of Forgiveness, a friend said he made a list of those who had offended him over the years and then forgave them. He wrote me, "I woke up the next morning feeling 100 pounds lighter!
Another friend was simply present for a meeting in which I was describing the process of forgiving. She silently began working the process of forgiveness with a specific person in mind—in the middle of a business meeting. The next day, she received a Facebook message from this person inviting her to a significant event. She wrote me, "I believe in forgiveness!"
Another friend who is gay worked the forgiveness experience on the entire religious right for the abuse he had felt in condemnation and exclusion for religious reasons. The very next day, he was approached by a religiously conservative friend asking to help him understand the impact of hate speech on the gay community.
How to forgive
All of these stories get to the heart of forgiveness. Connie Domino's central argument is that you do not have to meet with the person you are forgiving. You don't have to begin to like them. Forgiveness doesn't mean you have to forget what they did to you. You don't even have to let down your boundaries protecting yourself from being hurt again by that person.
But something very deep within you changes. You will feel a removal of impediments that the state of unforgiveness builds up within you— "boulders" as it were within your personal flow of energy. Unforgiveness blocks your attempts to achieve your goals and dreams. However, once you forgive those who have hurt you in the past, you are freer to attain your life's goals and dreams.
One of the most dramatic examples in history is the role that forgiveness played in the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. President Mandela truly believes forgiveness is one of the most powerful instruments in the world. Immediately after winning the election in South Africa, he invited his former wardens from Robben Island where he was imprisoned for almost 28 years to be his honored guests at his inauguration. He believes that his forgiveness of his enemies helped his nation begin to recover from the bleak days of Apartheid.
Mandela appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Archbishop Tutu wrote a groundbreaking book about his philosophy of forgiveness in which he argued that for everyone there is no future without forgiveness.
When you become a forgiver, you will feel and know a new degree of freedom, power and energy. You will know a new future. As Connie Domino says, "Join the forgiveness revolution!"
The Rev. Ed Bacon is a guest host for the Oprah's Soul Series radio show. He is also the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California. If you are interested in taking the next step, you can download the text of his sermon from Christmas Eve.