FORGIVING DOES US GOOD
The great schools of psychotherapy have barely studied the healing power of forgiveness. Until very recently, psychologists haven’t conceded it a role in the development of a healthy personality. They have thought wrongly – and keep thinking – that forgiveness is a purely religious attitude.
On the other hand, the message of Christianity has frequently been reduced to exhorting people to forgive generously, basing that behavior on the forgiveness that God gives us, but without teaching much more about the paths that must be walked for us to arrive at forgiveness from the heart. It’s not strange, then, that there are people who are almost completely ignorant about the process of forgiveness.
However, forgiveness is necessary for living together in a healthy way: in the family, where the friction of daily living can generate frequent tensions and conflicts; in friendship and love, where one has to know how to act in the face of humiliations, lies and possible infidelities; in various situations of life in which we need to react in the face of aggressions, injustice, and abuse. Whoever doesn’t know how to forgive can end up wounded forever.
There’s something that is necessary to clarify right from the start. Many believe themselves incapable of forgiving because they confuse anger with vengeance. Anger is a healthy reaction of irritation in the face of suffering offence, aggression or injustice: the individual rebels almost instinctively to defend life and dignity; the vindictive person seeks to cause damage, humiliate, and even destroy whoever has done him evil.
To forgive doesn’t necessarily mean to repress anger. On the contrary, to repress these initial feelings can be damaging if the person accumulates an anger within that much later will be deflected against other innocent persons or against our very selves. It’s healthier to recognize and accept the anger, perhaps sharing the wrath and indignation with someone else.
Later it will be easier to calm down and make the decision to not keep feeding the resentment or the fantasies of vengeance, in order to not do ourselves more damage. Faith in a forgiving God is therefore, for the believer, an invaluable stimulus and power. Whoever lives out the unconditional love of God ends up forgiving more easily.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf