I had lunch with a friend the other day, and we got talking about forgiveness for some reason.
We ended up discussing the many situations where people don't forgive. Sometimes it's among family members or friends, where someone might hold a grudge for years or maybe forever! Sometimes it's when we as a society fail to show forgiveness, and sometimes it's even when we won't forgive ourselves.
Whenever I'm addressing parents of children preparing for sacraments in school at the time of First Confessions, I try to explain the whole idea of forgiveness with a simple line: 'nature never forgives, people sometimes forgive, but God always forgives'. Nature never forgives - take a storm or a hurricane, it's completely destructive and unforgiving. People on the other hand sometimes forgive - for example if someone hit me a punch, I might forgive them, but I certainly won't forget it. But God always forgives - not only does God forgive, but he also completely forgets, it's wiped from existence as if it never happened. In the Bible it even says 'as far as east is from west, so far has God removed our sins'.
Forgiveness is important. We live in an imperfect world, even more so because we humans are so imperfect, and as a result of that most of us will at some stage be hurt by the actions or words of another, more often than not, it's someone we love.
When it involves someone we love, then it makes it so much worse - there is a feeling of betrayal, a breaking of trust, a feeling of being violated by those closest to you, those you depended on, and eventually there may be a feeling of hopelessness - that there is no one who you can truly trust. Indeed, it becomes very hard to ever trust again. The sad thing about it is, that the wounds caused are wounds of bitterness and maybe even vengeance, and these can be even worse than the original wrong-doing.
Carrying feelings of resentment and anger can give us some solace in the period immediately following the initial hurt, it strengthens our resolve somewhat, that we won't let ourselves be treated that way again. But the longer it goes on, those feelings and emotions become deep-seated and start to consume us. Being unforgiving can lead to a much higher price to be paid; we might start bringing those feelings into every relationship and new experience, we could run the risk of becoming a ' bitter person'; and our lives might become so obsessed with the wrong done in the past, that we can't enjoy the present.
Forgiveness is all about letting go. I often say to people who feel angry with another person, 'Why are you allowing that person to have such control over you, why are you giving them power over you?' Because basically that's what we're doing when we hold grudges and harbour feelings of anger and resentment - we're allowing the other person to control how we feel. Not only has this person managed to hurt me, now I'm allowing him/her to dictate my emotional state. Why would I give that kind of power to someone who has hurt me? That's a really bad idea. Letting go of all that negative energy enables us to become our true selves - people who are far better than those who have ' trespassed against us', far better than those who have hurt us so badly. When we forgive, we earn the right to be forgiven, we earn the forgiveness and love of God.
There isn't a person alive who hasn't had times in their lives when others have hurt them. It's a part of life, like it or not. Maybe at times we ourselves have been the ones to cause that hurt. The challenge for us is whether or not we can have it in us to forgive, even when forgiveness is completely unwarranted, and maybe not even sought from us. 'To err is human, to forgive divine'. It's easy for God, unfortunately it's not so easy for us humans.