When I was in college (the first time) I was invited to a forum on forgiveness. Out of support for the friend who asked me, I got out of bed early on a non-game Saturday and dragged myself on campus. My friend had put together a pretty nice presentation. She had several speakers in either ministry or counseling that were going to talk with us about forgiveness, what it is, why to do it, and how to do it.
I remembered one of the speakers saying that a person who hasn’t forgiven (let’s call this person “the wronged”) holds all this anger, resentment, pain, negativity inside while in most cases, the person who committed the wrong (I’ll go with “wronger”) goes on about life as usual. The wronger sleeps just fine, while the wronged is up all night unable to sleep. They wronger is happy while the wronged is not. And it just bugs the wronged that the wronger is okay while the wronged is far from it. That resentment continues to manifest and the wronged is stuck, unable to move forward because he/she just cannot get over it.
So, what is the key to letting go of whatever wrong committed against you? What is the thing that needs to happen so that you can finally move on? Forgiveness, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary is to “stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake”. Webster states that it is “To give up resentment of, or claim to requital for an insult” or to “To cease to feel resentment against an offender”.
Like I said, I was initially there primarily out of support for my friend. But in that moment, I realized that there was a bigger purpose in my attending that morning when I could’ve been in the bed or just hanging out in my dorm room. I realized that there were a few things in my past that I hadn’t forgiven. People who had hurt me or wronged me and while I wasn’t crippled under the pain and resentment of the act, I was left a little bitter. A little untrusting. And I didn’t like the feeling that I had allowed it to sit with me.
When the speakers were done, we all went outside to the balcony. There, we were each given a balloon and told that the balloon represented the people who hurt/wronged us that we needed to forgive. We then set the balloons off into the sky, in an act of not only forgiving the person, but also releasing whatever it was they did. Some let the balloon go and headed back in for the food. I stayed out there for a minute and watched my balloon float further and further away. I had to admit it felt pretty good to let that stuff go. Even though those issues were not physically inside that balloon, the symbolism behind having something weighing you down in your hand and then releasing it to the heavens, never to be seen again was pretty moving.
Unfortunately, we don’t always let go of past hurt and wrongs right away. I recently got sucked into watching a Lifetime movie called “The Sins of the Mother” (I really do try to avoid Lifetime movies like the plague, by the way). Nicole Beharie (“American Violet”) played Shay, who comes back home to her mother Nona’s house when she becomes too stressed from her doctoral studies. The-always-awesome-in-my-opinion Jill Scott was Nona, a recovering alcoholic. Shay suffered a horrible childhood because of her mother’s addiction and man, was this girl BITTER and ANGRY. She was even pulling her hair out, which resulted in bald spots. (sorry, that was a spoiler). She spent a lot of the movie unable to move past all the hurt Nona caused her. I wanted to reach through the screen at one point and just shake her. (Bitterness is not a good look) However, Shay did eventually have her breakthrough and she and Nona were able to form a better relationship and she was able to move on with her life.
Imagine if Shay had continued to let that resentment manifest. She’d be stuck forever, not to mention bald. Why do we subject ourselves to the pain caused by not forgiving? Not releasing whatever that thing was that person did years ago? I found a few reasons why over on the Discovering God blog (for the full post, click here). Below is my summation of the “benefits” of not forgiving:
- Power – that wrong doing gives us something to put over their head.
- Identity – We feel superior to the person who committed the wrong.
- Entitlement – When we hold on to the wrong, we feel we are owed something.
- Weaponry – When the time is right, we can pull it out and throw it back in his/her face.
- Puts us in God’s position – We can now judge the person for what they did.
So what if we always cry? So what if we yank our hair out? It doesn’t matter that we’re depressed. Our health is awful, our weight fluctuates, we break out in hives, so on and so forth. None of that matters. Why? Because we have been wronged and that person who hurt us needs to feel the wrath and pain of it all. The sad thing is, in some cases, the person doesn’t even know or know the extent of which we’ve been affected. Is all the inner and outer turmoil worth it just to discover the person wasn’t even aware you were hurt? Even if they are aware, is it worth it still to carry all that around? Sacrifice your sanity, health, joy? But, that’s what happens. Not forgiving someone (or is some cases, oneself) causes way too much harm and no good. There are no benefits to not forgiving. Not one.
If only we could really let go of our damage/past wrongs/hurt like a balloon, just imagine the kind of mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical condition we could be in. The funny thing about balloons is that once you let one go, it can pretty tough to go after it and get it back. You can actually look pretty silly trying to chase after one.
So, what balloons do you need to release to the sky? If you’ve let one (or several) go, how did it feel as it (they) floated further and further away?