If You Don’t Forgive Easily, This Is The Sign You’re Looking For

Growing up, my parents sent me to Catholic grade school and high school. Having attended these schools, my education included various religion courses that aimed to shape specific values so that students, like myself, would develop into morally outstanding individuals. Honestly, most of my classmates didn’t really care for these classes; I think that in their minds, taking the courses was just a requirement that came along with attending a Catholic school. I’ll admit that some of the material wasn’t always extremely exciting or compelling, but throughout my years taking these kinds of classes, I was able to gain some valuable perspectives on certain topics, and I’ve carried some of that knowledge with me ever since. This brings me to the topic of this article: forgiveness. 

 During my sophomore year of high school, I was taking the required religion course for that year. We read a few interesting books throughout the course, but a class discussion regarding one of them challenged, and ultimately changed, my perspective. The book was Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, the true story of how the author survived the Rwandan Holocaust of 1994 and how she was able to find God and forgive her persecutors, despite the horrors she experienced. The accounts retold in the book are truly terrifying; I remember being in disbelief that this woman, who had been so abused and battered throughout her story, was willing, let alone capable, to offer her forgiveness. I shared these thoughts with my class and being the outspoken and strong-headed girl I was (and sometimes still am), I went so far as to argue that because she had been so inhumanely wronged, her persecutors did not even deserve forgiveness. I recall my classmates nodding in agreement. To this, my teacher responded “Forgiveness is not equal to acceptance”.  

We were all silent for a moment, taking in her words that sounded almost nonsensical to me at first. My teacher explained that the act of forgiving someone does not mean you are saying whatever happened to you was okay or that how you’ve been treated is acceptable. Rather, forgiveness is releasing those feelings of resentment, vengeance and negativity. As it turns out, forgiveness is not weakness; forgiveness takes a lot of strength. But it's necessary, and even healthy. 

This realization shook me a bit. I was nearly sixteen at the time, and had gone through several hard situations in life already -- some I understood, others I couldn’t. I, like most people, had been hurt or wronged on some level before, and have certainly been wronged since then. I’ve been lied to, people I counted on or loved let me down, friends turned into different people -- it’s all a part of life, really. Before hearing those words from my teacher, I was stubborn. I really believed I was being strong by refusing to forgive others who hurt me, that forgiving them was giving in, saying “Hey, I am, in fact, a doormat, so you can walk all over me!”. I was a really positive person, I treated people nicely, and I didn’t think holding on to those bitter feelings deep inside affected how I was with others, but those feelings were still there, and they affected me. And what was that accomplishing? 

Whenever I feel angry over something that has happened to me, I think back to that day in class. Understanding that principle of forgiveness really helped me let go of the pain while still recognizing it, and I think it’s really aided in my growth as a result. I think about forgiveness more deeply and try to understand why I feel the way I do, and why people hurt others. It can be a long process, but forgiveness is a necessary process to healing and moving on. This  translates to forgiving ourselves as well as others. 

As we near the end of the semester and the end of 2020, I’m reminding myself of my teacher’s words. We all deserve forgiveness and closure with the things that have unsettled us in the past, and since 2020 has certainly been a wild year, consider this a message that it’s time to recognize the past but also let it go. Offer forgiveness to yourself and to others, and start next semester with an open heart and mind. You’ll be a lot happier for it.