And waiting is okay. It will have to be okay. What is the alternative? Just doing it? Now? Becoming a forgiving person is not a quick, easy, or simple task. I'll take that back. It is simple. It's like preparing for a marathon. In that case, all you have to do is start moving forward. What could be simpler? But easy? Definitely not. Not for most of us; maybe for all of us.
Wow! That is a high bar. Even if we can deliver that kind of atonement to those we've trespassed against, can we really have any hope of getting such satisfaction from those who have wronged us so deeply? It just doesn't sound realistic to me. So we have to ask, "What's the alternative?" I think there are two: First, we can wait indefinitely, resenting the wrongdoers in our lives until they measure up to our standards for living right and being acceptable members of society; or second, we can let go of this fantasy and just forgive them anyway.
What? And let them off the hook? Where's the justice in that? Where's the fairness? Why do I have to be the one to give in? I'm in the right here! They're wrong and they shouldn't be treated as anything but the shameful dogs I think they are! Forgiving them would end their punishment. They must suffer at least as much as I have!
That last paragraph was written by my ego. It loves fairness and justice and winning and being right and all those other things that everybody else's egos love. It's what starts wars and seeks revenge. It's what makes sure we get what's coming to us and what cuts off people's noses to spite their faces. Ego is the thing that stops us from enjoying the free things in life. Forgiveness is one of those free things.
Then another member asked me, "Have you forgiven your father?" That stopped me. I had to think. I took a minute to inventory my outstanding resentments. I couldn't find one for Dad. He died ten years ago--no, 16 years ago! When I think back on our years together, now, I think of all the missed opportunities to learn about what made him tick. I think about how I held on to the anger he had stirred up in me, especially in my teens, when I was trying to break away from the ideals he held dear. I think about the mistakes he made, about his good intentions, and about my pride and his, and what I learned about being a father from him.
I had forgiven my father several years ago when I was in therapy for anger issues. It had felt so good to set that burden down that I'd forgotten about the painful process my counselor had led me through. Why was it so painful? Well, my ego is like any other. It's job is to not let go of things. Things like ropes and hopes and babies and memories. Painful memories can be important to hold onto so that similar pain can be avoided in the future. The problem is that, for efficiency, egos tend to run on autopilot. And once they grab hold of something that seems important, they need a really good reason to let go. That good reason sometimes has to come from a smarter (less autopiloty) part of the Self than the ego. That smarter (wiser) part of the Self is called the soul. My soul (whatever that is) responds very well to quotes like this one from Jonathan Lockwood Huie: "Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace." Moving toward peace and away from pointless pain makes sense to my soul. And, with effort, it is able to convince my ego to let go of painful burdens.
I finally looked up at that group member and declared that I had indeed forgiven my father, though it had taken me until after his death to let go of my grudges against him. Am I a good example of letting things go? Of setting burdens down? Of just doing it? Certainly not. Am I a cautionary tale? A good example of how regrets can lead to redemption? Time will tell. But in the mean time, I will continue to practice forgiveness when it's completely uncalled for. Not because it's the right thing to do, but because it makes me feel so much better--even electrified!