Learning to Forgive … Over and Over and Over Again
I have a confession to make.
I don’t always practice what I preach.
Sometimes – OK, oftentimes, I find myself thinking or doing something and this snarky, know-it-all voice in my head (think cocky city banker) says, ‘But, Shiv, that’s not what you tell your coaching clients to do, that’s not what you write on your blog.’
I hate that snarky voice with a passion.
But I hate even more the fact that it’s always right.
About a month ago, I was coaching a client about the importance of forgiveness. And what I was saying – about forgiveness being the highest form of love and absolutely vital for our sanity – felt so true and so right. And yet…
Recently, someone really, really peed me off.
And since then, I haven’t been able to let it go.
Every so often, I will think about what they did and it will spark a torrent of of self-righteous moaning in my head, all about how they’re so this and they’re so that and they’re so frickin’ the other.
And sometimes I even play out little scenarios in my mind, while I’m doing the dishes or walking along the street, where I imagine confronting this person, soap opera stylie, and launching into a ranty monologue full of pithy put-downs all about how I’m so right and they’re so wrong and yada, yada, yada.
But any sense of satisfaction this gives me is always short-lived.
It’s actually really draining not forgiving another person.
Or, as Buddhists and Alcoholics Anonymous like to say: ‘it’s like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.’
Yesterday, I travelled up to the Midlands with a friend.
We hadn’t seen each other for ages so I was l looking forward to our journey together almost as much as the wedding we were both attending.
We bought bucket-sized cups of tea and bags of pastries, got settled into our seats on the train and embarked on a marathon catch-up.
We caught up on each other’s good news, funny news and work news.
And then of course, we got to the not-so-good news about things that had peed us off recently.
Long story short, it turned out we both had people we needed to forgive.
Our train arrived in Coventry with hours to spare so we decided to go on an impromptu sight-seeing visit.
We ended up at Coventry Cathedral.
Coventry Cathedral, it turned out, was almost destroyed by the Nazis during the Coventry blitz of 1940. Only the tower, spire and outer wall of the 14th century building remain.
The morning after the bombing, the decision was taken to preserve what was left of the cathedral, not as an act of defiance to the Nazis, but to embody Jesus’ key teaching – to love your enemy.
When the cathedral stonemason noticed that two of the charred roof beams had fallen in the shape of a cross they were placed on an altar of rubble with the words FATHER FORGIVE inscribed on the wall behind them.
As my friend and I looked around the beautiful ruins I got shivers running up and down my spine.
Not even an hour before we’d been talking about how we wished it was easier to forgive and now here we were, standing in the middle of a vast shrine to forgiveness.
As I read about the work the cathedral continues to do for peace and reconciliation in war-torn parts of the world, I felt truly humbled.
It also made me think of the jaw-dropping bravery and dignity of the relatives of the victims of the recent shooting in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina. And how, just a day after losing their loved ones in the most cruel and brutal way imaginable, they’d made a point of going to the courthouse to declare to the gunman that they forgave him.
When asked why relatives of the victims of the shooting had gone to court to declare their forgiveness, a pastor from the church replied simply ‘because we have to.’
Standing in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral I saw so clearly that he was right.
We have to forgive – no matter how hard it is.
We can only bring peace to this planet and to our hearts if we ‘love our enemy’ instead of rant and rave and moan about them.
If people can find it in their hearts to forgive bomb and gun attacks; if they can forgive the murder of their loved ones, then surely we can all forgive the smaller-scale annoyances in our day to day lives.
So, here I go again, searching inside of myself for the flickering light of forgiveness.
Letting go of my anger.
Understanding that I don’t know everything about the situation – it’s impossible to know everything about a situation.
Remembering that people usually do hurtful things because they’re hurting themselves.
And letting that knowledge lead me to feelings of compassion.
There’s no quick and easy route to forgiveness.
It’s a lesson we have to keep on learning and a choice we have to keep on making, every single day of our lives.
But when we do make that choice – when we see a prayer of forgiveness made from charred timber and a heap of rubble, when we hear the words ‘I forgive’ through a grieving mother’s sobs – that’s when we see the true loving potential of the human spirit.
That’s when we see the hope for a much happier world.
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Coming soon – Dare to Dream, the book…