I saw an old friend recently who I had not seen or spoken to in over seven years. I didn’t really know why we stopped spending time together. I assumed it was simply life getting in the way. She had given birth to a beautiful baby girl and my career was taking off. I was so thrilled to see her that I ran over and reached out to give her a hug. To my surprise she gave me the cold shoulder.
I felt very hurt and didn’t know how to react at that given moment. On my way home I began to play things over in my head and after some research a mutual friend informed me that seven years ago I had said something that offended this friend. She had been stewing in anger and unforgiveness towards me for seven years and I didn’t even know about it.
At first I was angry that she had treated me so badly. Then I began to think about unforgiveness. For seven years I was enjoying my life while she was clearly harboring animosity. Have you ever been in this situation? Has someone ever been angry with and you didn’t know? Have you ever been angry with someone who didn’t know or didn’t care?
The effects of unforgiveness are vast. According to the Mayo Clinic people who hold on to grudges are more likely to suffer from:
- High blood pressure
- Higher risk of alcohol and substance abuse
- Unhealthy relationships
These are just a few reasons to let go of grudges and forgive people who have hurt you. I recognize that it is not always easy to forgive but here are a few ways you can begin the process.
- Acknowledge the Hurt
After my friend gave me the cold shoulder at first I wanted to pretend it didn’t bother me that much. But finally I admitted to myself and to God that her behavior did hurt me and that I felt rejected. I wrote about it in my journal and I said it out loud in my prayer time. The simple act of giving my heart a voice went a long way in releasing me from that tightness in my chest that I sometimes feel when I have been wronged.
- Mourn the hurt
The hurt you endured may have been much more painful than my friend snubbing me. You may have been abandoned by your mother, experienced unfaithfulness from a spouse, or wrongly accused by a coworker. Recognize that just like a physical laceration, your heart was hurt and you need to give yourself the time to mourn and to heal.
- See things clearly
When you are in a more rational emotional state rethink the facts of the incident. It has been my experience that in the heat of the moment both parties can sometimes misinterpret what really happened. I am not saying to minimize or make excuses for the situation. I am saying be courageous and honest with yourself as to what exactly happen. Was this a pattern of wrong doing or was this a behavior that is not in your loved ones character? The more clear you are about the facts the better position you are in to move forward.
- Release the anger
Deciding to release the anger is not just about letting go of the intense physical reaction that anger can bring. That usually fades on its own over time. However the low grade anger can stick around for years. Clearly it did with my friend. Its that anger that prevents you from being able to wish the offender well. Its the anger that makes you still want him or her to get what is coming to them. That anger can have detrimental effects on your health.
- Protect Yourself
Forgiveness doesn’t mean putting yourself back into the place to be hurt again by the individual. Assess the situation and determine if this is a relationship that can be reconciled or if you need to separate from the person in order to protect yourself. Many relationships that appear to be forever lost can be reconciled if just one person began the process of forgiveness. Nevertheless proceed with an open heart and wise mind.
Live long enough people will hurt you. The bigger you love the bigger the hurts. If you didn’t love deeply people wouldn’t be able to get to your heart. So make a habit of practicing these steps every time someone does something that bothers you. It is good for you, it is good for the person, and it good for this world. Can you imagine how different the world would be if we could forgive more?