I have been hearing this phrase quite a bit lately, and in fact saying it to myself and others, but what exactly does it mean? We hear this phrase so many times in many different forms, but what does it mean from a faith point of view? I believe it is about forgiveness, and how you can be freed through that forgiveness.
Letting go in this sense allows us to forgive ourselves of the sins of our past, because they are washed away by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It does not mean that we forget these things; in fact, you should remember them so you do not do them again. It means letting go of the emotional ties of guilt and shame of those things that you need to let go of so that you can be free.
Letting go also applies to others who sin against us. Forgiving them of their sins against us does not absolve them of their own sins; it just sets us free from the emotional baggage of what their sins did to us. Like before, we do not forget those sins because we want to guard ourselves from them, but we embrace forgiveness to set ourselves free of their sins.
The perfect example of doing both, of course, is Jesus himself. He gave himself up on the cross for our sins to be forgiven. He bled out all that he had, and did so willingly, not because he was obligated, but out of love. He also was able to forgive those who were sinning against him even on the cross, asking his Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” and “Today you will be reborn with me in Paradise”. That is compassion and forgiveness in action at its highest point. He could have become angry or indignant by their actions and words towards him, but instead asked to give them forgiveness so that he could remain sinless.
So what does that mean for you and me? How do we find ways to forgive ourselves or others?
To start, forgiveness is the best way to be able to start healing. Forgiveness can be done through the tears of pain and regret, of the suffering that one may be going through by someone else. I know that as I write this, I am in the process of a divorce, and forgiveness is not an easy thing to talk about. Yet I also know that I need to give my wife that gift of forgiveness, and myself as well. Even if the marriage does return to being healthy, that forgiveness is the start of healing the hurt and breach that is between. And if the marriage does dissolve into divorce, at least then forgiveness is there and healing can begin from the loss.
Forgiveness is not an easy thing. We have seen recently in the news a heinous act happen in a church where 9 people were killed after they opened up their place of worship to something that only wanted to destroy and break them apart. Instead the church and community found a way to come together through forgiveness, and show that hate cannot win when forgiveness happens.
Forgiveness cannot come through hate, either for yourself or for the person(s) who committed the sin against you. Instead, it is a gift of love that you give to yourself. Forgiveness does not free the person that sinned against you, wronged you, and made you feel less than what you are. Forgiveness frees you from being a prisoner of what they tried to make you become. It breaks the chains of anger and hate from your heart, because the love inside makes your heart stronger. Strong enough to break chains. Strong enough to know that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that you will get through this. God makes that commitment to us through Jesus Christ.
So just how do we find those ways to forgiveness?
For me, forgiving myself is probably much harder than forgiving others. I can control myself and my actions, so that is why it is much harder to do that. I cannot control anyone else, so their actions are what they need to be held accountable for, and I know they will. My actions are to find ways to forgive so that I am not a prisoner of their actions.
Forgiving others is a process for me. My process usually is to ask the following questions:
- Why did they do these things to me?
- Was their intent to harm me in any way?
- If yes, how bad did they harm me? Can I heal?
- If no, then you should forgive, because that was not their intention.
- Do I want to play out their actions constantly in my head?
- If it means you get angry or hurt when you do that, you should not rehash the actions. Find someone to talk to about it.
- If you can look at those actions in a detached and objective manner, you may be able to forgive that person or persons for their actions.
These are just some of the questions that I ask myself when I am trying to work through a situation of where I feel wronged by someone else.
The most important thing I can think of for this is to find someone you trust to talk it out. It can be a close friend, a priest, your spouse, someone that you are close to that is not part of the issue. And it must be someone you trust.
As far as forgiving yourself for your actions, that is a different story. As we all know already, we are our own worst critics. We tend to think and rethink actions over and over again because we know we can do better. And we expect ourselves to do better. At least I know I do for myself.
Forgiving yourself starts with apologizing for your actions. If you cannot apologize to the person you did the actions to, pray about it and give it up to God.
After that, find someone to talk to. Since I am Catholic, and I believe that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is something that helps the healing process. If you are unable to get in to the time where your local parish has reconciliation, call the parish office and schedule it with a priest. I have found that for my parish, that is never a problem, and if I need to talk about a particular issue, that is usually best to allow the priest to hear you out.
What other ways do you think would be good to help you to forgive yourself or others? Please leave comments below and pass along your best tips for others to help them heal as they journey through their problems towards forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not an easy thing to do, but it is something that will make you stronger and get you on the path back to love and hope. It frees you from being a prisoner, and allows you to move on with your life.