Freedom Through Forgiveness

May 18, 2020 | Fr. Patrick Wainwright, MC

Friendships are not always smooth and unbreakable. I had a group of friends throughout my childhood, and as we got to be seniors in high school, I remember our friendship fell apart because of some conflicts and arguments that we were unable to resolve. One of the guys said something about me that was not true, and caused the other guys to start being a bit more distant or cold toward me. Even when I tried to reach out, whatever was said about me changed their perspective, and they were unwilling to speak or clarify any misunderstandings. I know I was not always the best person during high school, but it was tough to lose my friends and not have a chance to understand why.

You may be experiencing something very similar in your life—your good friends start to act in ways that are hurtful, or they create drama, or gossip… and either your anger or your pride gets the better of you. Those friendships fall apart, and you are left in pain—because you wish things had not ended like that.

Could we ever resume our previous relationship? How can we still be friends after an argument? Such disagreements and frictions are almost inevitable. The question is how we respond to them.

These conflicts wound us, and sometimes, the trust we used to have is broken. On some occasions you may be able to resolve things and get back to normal, but this is not always the case.

Forgiveness is a process, and here are some ideas that can help you find the freedom that comes from forgiveness.

Remember there are greater things—the bigger picture

As a general background to all this attitude of forgiveness, we must remember that whenever we are offended or feel hurt by something, it is typically because there is some good that we had that has been damaged or taken away: a position at work, a grade at school, a friendship that we lost, our honor, some good that we can’t have anymore. We must constantly remind ourselves that, in fact, none of these things are as important as our ultimate purpose in life. That purpose is our salvation, our sanctification, the union with God which we are called to obtain. A true attitude of forgiveness is an unequivocal path to reach these things.

Pray for those who have offended you

As in all other areas in the spiritual life, we must begin with prayer. Whether during the Holy Mass, or while praying the Rosary, or as you go about your daily tasks, ask our Lord with insistence to give you the grace to forgive. He will not fail you (see Luke 11:5-10).

You should also pray for the well-being of those who have offended you—specifically, by name. This is something that any person of good will can do—to desire what is good for those who have harmed you in some way. If you are still not able to pray for their temporal well-being, at least pray their eternal salvation.

I am constantly amazed whenever I read the words of Christ as He is being crucified: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). He does not want to look at the offense made to Himself, on the contrary, He is concerned for their salvation. He prayed for them.

Be willing to let go…

In order to forgive, we must have a desire to forgive—in other words, you have to see that forgiveness is a good thing, that it is better than to hold on to grudges, and therefore, you must desire it. But you will also notice that we tend to hold on to certain hurts… we brood over them, we bring them back to mind, and we elaborate within our minds, and deepen the anger and desire for revenge. To avoid all this it is necessary to let go… to simply stop thinking those things, to make a firm act of the will, and tell yourself that it truly makes no sense to keep revisiting those thoughts. Of course, it is easier said than done, but this is a key step if you want to move in a positive direction.

Do not wish them evil

We naturally tend to have negative feelings toward those who had done us some wrong. We might want them to fail, to be damaged or even hurt in some way. Many people desire some type of revenge—maybe that someone else may hurt whomever hurt them.

However, this type of attitude will simply entangle you more and more in your negativity and unforgiveness. Instead, you should make an effort not to desire any evil to them. They may have hurt you, but you can still wish them good. You can take the occasion of this offense to grow, to act with a holy intention.

While being a missionary in the general area of the Saint Lawrence River, St. Isaac Jogues (1607-1646) was taken prisoner by the Mohawks, and tortured brutally. He was treated as you would treat a slave or an animal. However, in all his sufferings, he still tried to bring the Gospel to people he visited, he tried to heal the sick, and he accompanied the dying—he never wished them any evil.

You must forgive and forget—or do you?

A very common misconception that people have is that you must forget whatever they did to you if you really want to forgive. However, that is not the case. The evil that has been done to us can leave pretty deep wounds and painful memories. I think that in some situations it is almost impossible to forget. What is important, though, if you desire to forgive, is not to bring up from time to time the fact that someone has done this or that to you in your conversations with that person. That is a hurtful thing to do, and it is an indication that you are holding on to a grudge. So if you want to forgive someone, don’t be telling them what they did to you in the past—that will make things all the more difficult!

Try talking to them

If you have been able to settle your emotions, and are over the momentary flare of anger, it may be a good moment to try speaking to the person involved in this disagreement or conflict.

Unfortunately, in some occasions the other person may not be willing to speak. If that is the case, there’s not much you can do. Pray to our Lord for them, offering to God in your heart your willingness to forgive.

If it is a person that you run into every now and then, then you may take the chance to ask if you could have a brief word with them. If you find a good time and a good place (being prudent in this area is key!), then you can honestly and kindly present your concern. Maybe you can start by apologizing for whatever you might have done, and thus allow the other person to apologize, too.

You can try to explain why and in what manner you were hurt, or what expressions in the other person were the ones that made you feel offended. Try to present the real facts, things that the other person actually did or said. On the other hand, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, so as to understand their perspective.

It is always possible that speaking with them may not work—there must be a good heart on both sides. However, you will be surprised how important it is to do this—interchanging ideas with kindness solves problems and restores friendships.

Do your best to forgive them from your heart

Finally, ask our Lord to strengthen you with his grace, to make it possible for you to forgive others from your heart. This is more of a fruit of God’s action in us, than a result of our sheer effort. So pray to our Lord and our Blessed Mother frequently, and they will grant it to you!