“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” — Lewis B. Smedes
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When my wife sat me down and told me we needed to talk, I knew something was wrong.
I could see it in her face.
Despair had never taken over her eyes like that, in all the years I’d known her. All I wanted to do was comfort her and make whatever it was troubling her go away.
When she told me what had happened, it was from this place of compassion that I responded the way I did. I simply blurted out the first words that came to my mind to relieve her suffering.
“I forgive you.”
To this day, I don’t know if she believed me. Sara had just admitted to having an affair with one of her colleagues, and I could see the torment her unfaithfulness was inflicting upon her.
Perhaps it was because she was not yet ready to forgive herself that she could not believe what she heard from my heart, yet despite the seriousness of her transgression, my words were sincere.
I was fully prepared to forgive her misstep because of all the times I too had needed forgiveness, because I knew what it meant to be sorry, and because I knew how it felt to want nothing more than to go back in time and make different choices.
It was from this place of compassion that I forgave Sara for her wandering heart, to not make her feel any worse than she already felt.
To be clear, forgiveness does not excuse such actions, for just as we should not abandon our own promises lightly, we should likewise be leery of lightly accepting the unmet promises of others.
But what forgiveness does do is acknowledge the transgression while also offering an opportunity to work together to pick up the pieces and begin the process of returning to right relations, even if it means things won’t necessarily be the same again.
What’s more, this forgiveness was not solely for her benefit, for it was just as much a gift for myself. A wild fire of anger and resentment can do far more hurt to the one on fire than to the one the anger is directed towards.
Forgiveness is a medicine for the poison of anger, an opportunity to dampen the fires, calm the heart, and begin the process of healing the hurt we feel.
It can sometimes feel impossible to offer forgiveness, when an especially egregious act has been committed against us, yet the reciprocal gift of forgiveness is the only way to sincerely move forward with clarity, confidence, and courage.
What transgressions might you be holding onto? How might you put down the poison and offer the reciprocal gift of forgiveness?
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.