Today’s blog focuses on the question posed by a reader: “I understand the concept of forgiveness but have a hard time practicing it. Any suggestions?”
Seven Times Seventy Times
Being a firmly entrenched and committed Irish grudge-holder, I certainly have no idea how to answer the question about the practice of forgiveness. The good news is that my guru and teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, had something to say about it. When asked how often we should forgive, Jesus replied, “Seven times Seventy times.” I don’t believe that this was offered as a commandment but simply as an observation as to how difficult and challenging the whole journey to forgiveness really is for us pea-brained humans. In my own journey, I have found this to be true. The journey toward forgiveness is hard work, challenging, requires sincere intention and discipline. If we really want to forgive and to be freed from the hurts we perceive ourselves to have received from another, we have to want it. In my own practice (and that is exactly what it is….practice, practice, practice) with forgiveness, there are a few tools that I have found to be helpful:
1) Grieve the loss – Allow yourself to FEEL the pain of the loss, the hurt, the betrayal. Be present to all the faces of grief that might show up – sadness, depression, anger, denial, bargaining. Feel it and be present to it. Give yourself permission to wallow in your victimhood…to be the martyr, to be the scorned lover or forgotten friend. But….DON’T STAY THERE!
2) What unhealed fears of your own were triggered in the hurt? Take time to identify the unhealed fears in yourself that were triggered in the loss, hurt or betrayal: The fear that there is not enough, that you have nothing to contribute to the world, that you cannot be your most authentic self, that you are not loved, that you are not free to express your truth, that your needs will not be met, that you do not know your truth or your path, that you are alone.
3) Take time to be present to allowing the unhealed fears/wounds within yourself to be healed….. Seek support through a Spiritual Director, Counselor, bring these unhealed wounds into your meditation and prayer, ask for Divine assistance.
4) Place yourself in the shoes of “the other.” This is the hard part: explore what unhealed fears/wounds in “the other” might have caused them to act in a way that you perceived as being hurtful. Once you think you have identified the unhealed wound or fear, pray for their healing, hold them in loving kindness, circle them with the idea of love.
5) NOW WAIT Another challenging stage…..because this is the stage that reminds us that we ARE NOT in control. The moment in which true forgiveness takes place is God’s alone. It is not something that we can make happen. It is a moment of pure and unmerited GRACE. This is the place where miracles happen, where we suddenly realize we are free of the burden of resentment, grudge-holding, hurt, etc. It is in this place where we can move forward in our journey, freed of the past wounds that would otherwise hold us back or simply repeat the same patterns.
Two Supportive Spiritual Practices for Forgiveness
All that being said, there are two additional tools that I have found to be incredibly helpful in being open to and moving through the practice of forgiveness. One from the Buddhist tradition and the other from the Aramaic Jesus.
1) Tonglen – is a spiritual practice that comes out of Tibetan Buddhism. I have adapted this practice and applied it to the spiritual practice of forgiveness and experienced miraculous results. (for more on this practice, see The Wheel of Initiation by Julie Tallard Johnson pgs 248-250) In regards to forgiveness, we acknowledge the negative feeling we hold against “the other”‘ (anger, hurt, anxiety, resentment) and we breathe that feeling into our heart. Then, we breathe out love toward the person we perceive to have caused us harm. Breathe in pain, breathe out love. It is as simple as that.
2) The Aramaic Lord’s Prayer In the English translation of the Lord’s Prayer, we have a phrase about forgiveness, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This incomplete translation implies our need for Divine forgiveness. In the Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, this phrase takes on whole new meaning. It reminds us that the need to be freed of our trespasses is ours alone and that God can help us find that inner freedom. From this perspective, it is no longer about sin and retribution, but about our human need for harmony within our intimate relationships and our inherent limitations to achieving this on our own. The phrase in Aramaic is:
Washboqlan khaubayn(wakhtahayn) aykanna daph khnan shbwoqan l’khayyabayn
And can be understood to mean:
I invite the Divine to loose the cords of mistakes binding me, as I release the strands I hold of others’ guilt.
When I really get caught in the journey of forgiveness, I invoke the Aramaic words of this phrase as a mantra and let God do the rest.
One Final Thought:
And one final thought as it applies to forgiveness (my apologies because I cannot remember the source of this quote), a definition that I have found to be helpful:
Forgiveness is releasing our judgment of another’s actions.
Humbling to be sure, as this whole process of forgiveness. In the end, my advice to all of us…..just keep practicing!
Authentic Freedom Ministries