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Defining Forgiveness

Saturday, March 09, 2013

I grew up attending a traditional church that included pushing parishioners, including small children in Sunday School, to forgive other people for whatever wrongs they had committed, and also to seek forgiveness when we did wrong. We learned to say "sorry" to appease domineering adults, and even at a very young age we knew that other children were more sorry they got caught than they truly were for a misdeed. Does any child truly regret stealing a cookie from the jar if were hungry and managed to get it down before getting caught? But when adults made this demand, they never told us what that meant.

The assumption became that forgiveness meant one or both of two things. First, we it meant that the errant behavior was all right, that somehow we didn't mind that the other person had hurt us or wronged us in some way. Second, it meant that we had to try to forget that the transgression had happened, or at least act as though it never occurred.

Now that just never made sense to me. When I was in high school our teen church group had some sort of scuffle and we and the pastor got into this very discussion. When he said, in particular, that we had to act as though the problem never occurred, I confronted him. My analogy was, if someone broke a precious lamp that sat in a room, I couldn't ignore the fact that the corner was now empty and dark. I also had a lot of hurt/angry feelings that wouldn't just disappear on their own. The pastor had no answer.

It was only in the last few years that I found another viewpoint. Forgiveness is about letting go of the anger that accompanied the problem situation, the anger we held for the person(s) involved. It doesn't mean we say the behavior was acceptable. It doesn't mean we put ourselves back into a related situation where that person can hurt us again. But we stop our stewing, our fretting, our blaming, and our focusing on the hurt. After all, the person we are angry with probably doesn't know we are unhappy, and if their life has gone one without interruption, they may not even know they did something wrong. So our anger doesn't hurt them; we only hurt ourselves and make our own lives miserable. That doesn't mean we forget the hurtful situation or words; it just means we put it in the "over and done with" part of our brains and move forward.

But the problem gets more complicated when we have to admit that the person we need to forgive is ourselves. We have all done things we regret, said things we wish we could take back, and lived with painful (physical or emotional) consequences of past actions. Sometimes those were actions that hurt other people; often we hurt ourselves. I almost said we hurt ONLY ourselves, but that starts to show the problem. Are we, as individuals, less important than anyone else. Are we any less deserving of courteous and respectful treatment by our own selves? Why don't we offer ourselves the consideration we would extend to or expect from others?

The answers are as extensive and varied as there are people in the universe. But often, as we were growing up, we absorbed the message that we were worth less than other people, that we were flawed in some way. So we buried our hurts and our pain. Still, we carried it around inside ourselves. And it literally began to eat at us. And we, in turn, began to eat to fill the void we created.

Mother Nature didn't help. We are all born with nervous systems that reward us with good feelings when we ingest certain foods or other substances. And so we tried to bury our pain by eating too many helpings or too-big helpings of a lot of foods. And we buried our pain so deep sometimes we don't even know where it came from originally - or else we do know but we can't forgive ourselves for our own history. And at some level we take the blame and then can't or won't forgive ourselves. Why not?

I think at least part of the reason is simply that we don't know how. We never learned what it means to forgive. We can't say that what we did was right as our minds clearly think otherwise, regardless of what the so-called truth is. And we have had consequences to deal with, whether those are emotional issues such as fear or guilt or physical issues such as broken bones, damaged cars, broken marriages, or lost family members. But we never came to terms with allowing ourselves to put the anger behind us and move forward. We have let the bad situation define us instead of re-defining our identities and creating new lives for ourselves one day at a time, one step at a time - and even one meal at a time.

If our weight loss journey is to be successful we must deal with those painful issues and learn to forgive ourselves. We must consciously and deliberately look forward at the person we want to become. We need to specify the kind of person we will be, what we will look at, what activities we will pursue, and even how we will interact with people in our lives who remind us of those painful times, even if they were never involved.

Losing weight because our doctor said we should or because our spouse might react better to us or our families are nagging us may succeed in the short term but most of us know well that the results won't hold. We have to have a positive impetus, one that is of our own creation and satisfies our desires for our lives.

If we occasionally exceed our calorie targets or fail to achieve our workout goals, we also have to be willing to forgive ourselves and move forward. We are not failures as humans because we let time get away from us or (in my case, often) we end up working overtime and can't fit everything we planned into our waking hours. To paraphrase my dearest friend, we have to allow ourselves to be human.

That isn't to say this is a quick and/or easy fix for our lives. But working at this business of forgiveness, of letting go of our painful pasts and moving into new, more positive, directions that will make our journeys more enjoyable and less stressful no matter how long they take.

My own weight loss progression is slow; my metabolism has slowed down over the years and my life is still full with a busy job and home responsibilities. But I have noticed a major increase in my motivation to finally tackle this issue since coming to terms with both others in my past and my own sometimes-unfortunate responses. I have been blessed with good health and hope to enhance it with the help of SP so that I can create a new life that brings me peace, joy, and satisfaction even as I face my senior years.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    thank you for posting this! It was something I needed to read.
    1805 days ago
    We are all too quick to "forgive" others, allowing them to continue hurting or angering us, and yet we harbor negativity, anger and disappointment toward ourselves for much longer than we do others.

    When my kids were little, I told them that saying "I'm sorry" is two-fold. It is an acknowledgement that you have wronged someone, and it is recognition that you need to make an effort not to let it happen again. To truly say you are sorry to yourself, and to accept it from yourself and forgive, you also have to acknowledge that you need to make a concerted effort to treat yourself better in the future. I think part of our lack of willingness to forgive ourselves is derived from having to accept that we haven't treated ourselves well, and that we have to change it, but might not know how.

    Anyway, thank you for the thought provoking blog!
    1806 days ago
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