Alexander Pope said, “to err is human, to forgive, divine.” True and true, but many of us struggle and stumble over both. Why is that? Christianity and spiritual seekers agree we humans screw up regularly and need forgiveness, but we view it differently.
Most of us raised in the church were taught erring was the equivalent of sinning. Religion teaches humans are born with a sinful nature, we can’t help it, we are going to sin, and Divine intervention is required. We need help from the outside to move forward into forgiveness. Enter the Savior to offer the blood sacrifice to wash away our sins. Religion requires us to confess our sins and invoke the blood of Jesus the Savior to clean and renew our tarnished lives; in this way, we are forgiven our transgressions. Forgiving others requires we call upon the Holy Spirit to undergird us as we struggle to forgive. None of it sat quite right with me. I never could get a handle on being behind the eight-ball right out of the chute, so to speak, and the whole blood sacrifice thing wasn’t resonating either. But, that’s part of my story. If the Christianity model works for you, I am all in favor.
On the other side of the shore are those on various spiritual paths who believe to “err” is to make mistakes, nothing more, nothing less. Mistakes are necessary to learn and grow, and I would agree. Do those who seek a spiritual path need Divine intervention? Yup, but not in the same way. The Divine intervention, in this case, means we recognize our flaws as part of the human experience, while at the same time, as extensions of the Divine, we extend Divine Love to ourselves and others through forgiveness. No need for blood sacrifice, no need for a savior. Divine Love calls us to own our flaws, our transgressions against self and others, and then to forgive, releasing the flaws and transgressions into the Universe as we move forward. We are in partnership with God, sentient beings created from the love of God, not helpless, hopeless clumps of cells. And, pretty much the whole being born in sin thing made me feel that way; as if there was no hope for me or anyone else unless we fell to our knees and begged forgiveness from the very one who created us in the first place. Forgiveness for what? Being born? This is my story, remember?
In either case, Christians and spiritual seekers struggle with forgiveness of self or others. Transgressions committed against us are painful and we want revenge, want the other person to hurt as much as we do, regardless of which side of the spiritual line we are standing on.
We can’t seem to let go, mulling the transgression over and over in our minds, talking about it, using words like, “I will never forgive him/her for what he/she did to me”. For what purpose? Unforgiveness never serves our higher good, nothing good comes of harboring ill against others, or self, for that matter. Unforgiveness binds us to the past, our gaze firmly focused on the rearview window of life. It’s hard to move forward looking backward. When we persist in unforgiveness we are in effect fanning the flames of indignation and the desire for revenge over and over again as the anger flares anew. The struggle is with our feelings. Feelings associated with transgressions are valid, we cannot put them aside, but allowing the intensity and anger associated with transgressions to fester only hurts us, not the transgressor. Unless you are into masochism, quit fanning that flame and deal with the feelings. Karma has your back, so does God.
A big reason we withhold forgiveness is in our interpretation of forgiveness. Forgiving does not mean we condone the behavior of others. This is a lie straight from the pits of hell if I believed in an actual place called hell. Bad behavior is bad behavior and there is no excuse to accept it from anyone. Forgiveness is not about forgetting the transgression or behavior either. How can we? The simple answer is, we can’t unless we suddenly develop amnesia. Again, feelings are involved. If we can separate the feelings from the behavior we have a better shot at forgiving the transgression. Moving past unforgiveness takes time and there are layers to our feelings. We need to work through each layer releasing their power over us into the Universe. And that’s really the truth of it; feelings have power over us. Never let anyone or anything control you.
Carrying around transgressions and all their negative feelings will affect our mind, body, and spirit, and prevent us from becoming all we were created to be. We have this one life we are living in this time and space, never allow anything to steal it. The transgression itself will ever be a part of who we are, the intense feelings needn’t be. In truth, the fact transgressions become a part of who we are is a good thing. It doesn’t feel like that will ever be the case, but as we heal and look for the good we will find it. There is good to be found in every negative situation, including hurtful situations, but it’s usually not obvious. Through prayer or meditation and opening ourselves to the power of Divine Love, we will see hurtful transgressions from a higher perspective. Valuable life lessons come to light because of healing and opening to the power of God. We are resilient beings, especially when we draw closer to the Divine Source of Love.
What about forgiving self? Forgiving self is one of the hardest things for most to do. It is usually easier to forgive others than ourselves. I have spent far too much time beating myself up in life for things I have done or said. Sometimes we deliberately hurt others, but most of the time hurting others is accidental, not our intention, or just stupid decisions on our part. One day it dawned on me that being able to forgive others but not myself is rather arrogant in a backhanded way, believing others worthy, but not myself. Of the 7+ billion people on the face of the earth, I alone was unworthy of forgiveness. God reminded me it doesn’t work that way. Imagine that.
At the end of the day, every single person on the planet is human and subject to all manner of imperfection. Why do we insist on perfection from ourselves and others? Often we are far kinder to others than we are to ourselves. People screw up, and even when the screw up is willful it is possible to forgive and move on. We cannot control the words or deeds of others, but we can choose to forgive. If nothing else, we are forgiving their humanness. What goes around comes around and the Law of Attraction operates regardless of whether we accept it or not. Putting energy into unforgiveness only begets more unforgiveness toward self and others….
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