As we approach the end of the year, most of us are thinking about the past year and what things we want to do differently in the new year. One thing we should consider with that list is forgiveness.
Have you ever made a mistake? Committed a sin? Have your careless words or actions hurt someone?
I’m sure you’re answering, “Yes.” We are all sinners — transgressors — no matter how hard we try to do the right things. We hurt each other and cause problems. It’s part of life.
If we’re all the same, why is forgiveness so hard? Maybe the problem is in how we look at the sin.
Take Off the Negative Lenses
About a month ago on Medium, I read Take Off the Negative Lenses by Kim McKinney, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. Kim’s article focuses on the need to stop being negative. It’s an excellent article and worth your read time, but I hope you’ll stay here first. (I’ll share a link again to Kim’s story at the bottom of this post.)
The part of the story that resonated the most was me is where she offers questions to help us overcome negative thinking. Here’s what hit me.
How many life sentences are you giving out? We often like to recycle the “sins” of people and bring them up time and time again. It gets us nowhere. Was the infraction worth a life sentence? — Kim McKinney
Life sentence. Those words stopped me in my tracks.
How many times have you held on to a grudge or refused to forgive someone? I know I’ve been guilty much more often than I would like to admit.
Kim’s suggestion that holding on to that resentment is like a life sentence has shaken me to my core. Would I want my mistake to cost me a life sentence? Would you?
Life sentences in the criminal justice system are only handed down for the worst crimes. You have to be an awful person or have done terrible things before they deem the punishment warranted.
Is there really any “sin” against you that is worth such a harsh punishment? Is the mistake that sticks in your craw deserving of a lifetime of penance?
It’s a powerful thought.
Some people do terrible things. I will never fully forgive the person who sexually abused me as a child. That sin, to me, is worth a life sentence, but not to the point where it controls me.
To some extent, learning to own my experience and accept what happened, I’ve moved past that terrible time. I never want that person in my life again, but I’m not fixated on making sure they suffer or feel my wrath.
Punishment Equal to Sins
The fact is, though, most of the things we hold on to are nowhere near as serious as sexual abuse. Yet, it’s far too easy to hold on to the pain a friend caused us.
Is the punishment equal to the transgression?
Stealing a cookie is not even on the same planet as killing someone. Obviously, the punishment for each crime should be vastly different.
With hurt feelings, though, we may respond to all failings the same way.
- You hurt me, so I’m cutting you out of my life.
- You didn’t invite me for dinner, so I’m not speaking to you.
- You shared my secrets, so I will never tell you anything again.
Does that seem right to you?
Learn to Forgive
Okay, so this is all well and wonderful in theory. It makes perfect sense that the punishment for a sin should fit the crime.
When the pain is in your heart, though, the sin feels much bigger. How do you learn to repeal those life sentences?
One way is the time test. Will the thing that happened matter in a year? Five years? 100 years? If not, can you let it go now? Cancel that life sentence.
Another solution is to think about your own mistakes. Who was the last person you hurt? Was it intentional? More often than not, it was probably just a careless moment. Do you want it held against you for the next five years? Of course not.
Understanding how you want others to forgive you will help you forgive others.
It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody. — Maya Angelou
It’s Time for Parole
Ever since I read Kim’s article, I can’t help but think it’s time I rethink my internal justice system. I need to take some time to reconsider the life sentences I’ve handed out and honestly contemplate if they warrant parole.
It’s ingrained in me to become stuck on things, and when I’m hurt, or even worse, if you’ve hurt someone I care about, it takes a long time for me to get past it. I understand, though, that it’s something I need to work on.
Starting today, I’m working on my own prison reform. I will commute life sentences and review the other punishments I’ve handed out.
I don’t want to be a negative person and don’t want my sins held against me forever. It’s time I learn to forgive and let go.
I challenge all of you to do the same. Have you been handing out life sentences over the years? Then now is the time to make changes and set those people free. As you do, please come back and share your experiences in the comments below.
As promised, here’s another link to Kim’s story. Please take a moment and read it.
This story originally appeared on Medium on December 10, 2019.
You May Have Missed…
I’ve been writing regularly for Medium for a while. Here are a few of my most popular posts. Each link is a friend link, so anyone can read the posts even if they are not a Medium member.
Here’s the rundown.
We don’t always need to say the words, “I love you.” Many times we express our emotions in other ways. Listen for the Silent “I Love You’s” is a post about listening for those other ways.
Face in the Mirror is a poem about how living with mental illness or the after-effects of prior abuse can sometimes make you feel unrecognizable to yourself. It has a video to go along with the poem.
Some time ago, a man I used to work with lost his son to suicide. I didn’t feel like I could reach out to him after years of no contact, but I had to write something. Confessions of Suicidal Ideation for a Grieving Father is the letter I would like to send.
Imposter Syndrome is one of the biggest buzz phrases of our time. Does Anyone Actually Believe They Are Successful? is my thoughts on the subject.
Torture is a poem I wrote way back in 2004. It’s about the way you feel when you love someone who doesn’t love you back. It’s also this week’s featured video.
Finally, my latest post is about how I manage to work full-time with a chronic illness. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Solutions for Working Full-Time With a Chronic Illness.