The Importance of Forgiving Others
You have no doubt heard all of the clichés and rusty old sayings about forgiving others. The New Testament, of course, is all about forgiveness—with Jesus asking God to forgive us and all that. There are other reasons to forgive people as well, however--namely, because forgiveness is more emotionally economical than desires for revenge. Forgiveness allows the forgiver to turn his or her attention to the future in a positive constructive way, rather than dwelling on the past and trying to get some sense of justice.
The Difficulty in Forgiving Others
Of course, it is not always easy to forgive others. Forgiving others is especially difficult when that other was someone who was close to you but betrayed you. When a lover who you have put your trust in and who has seen you at your most intimate and vulnerable betrays you, it is difficult to come to a place of forgiveness.
Why is that? Why should it be more difficult to forgive that person that you once loved?
Those who are closest to us are hardest to forgive because their betrayal feels as if it steals part of ourselves. When you have been someone’s lover and he or she cheats, you not only lose your feeling of trust, but you lose that part of yourself who loved them. You look back on the moments when you felt closest to your lover, the moments when you felt as if he or she knew you like no one else ever did, and now you cannot rid yourself of the thought of how he or she is now.
You look back on those moments of closeness and feel as if they didn’t really know you after all—or even worse, that they did know but that you didn’t know yourself. You are, in effect, alienated from your own past. The story of your love is now the story of a failed love.
The Transcendence of Forgiveness
Being able to forgive those who have hurt us the most—our ex-lovers and absent parents—is the most difficult part because it requires us to not only fully let go of them but of who we once were with them. Our anger and hatred is not the opposite of the love we once felt for them, but its shadow. When you hate someone, he or she is as much a part of you as when you loved him or her. They are constantly with you. You are always thinking of how you can reach out and affect them, change them, hurt them.
It is only once you forgive them for their betrayal that you can move on and feel at peace. In some cases, of course, full forgiveness will not be possible. Forgiving others requires letting go of our feelings for them. We cannot fully forgive those that brought us into this world and abandoned us—anyone who was abandoned by a parent knows this and carries it into every relationship he or she enters. Similarly, anyone with whom you bring a being into the world cannot be fully forgiven when they betray you, because every time you see that child, you see the person who betrayed you and feel the pain of alienated love once again.
So perhaps, it is best to think of forgiving others as an ideal rather than an actual goal. We should seek every day to forgive those who wrong us, and to hope that those who we will inevitably betray and fail will forgive us as well. After all, we have little chance of making it through this life without causing others pain much as we have been caused pain.