When employing the process of forgiveness, I have discovered three steps that lead me out of my anger and hurt. The first is tolerance, the second is acceptance, and the third is to embrace. Anyone involved in a situation of betrayal might find all three of these steps impossible, but given time and effort, we can slowly bring ourselves to move in the right direction. These steps provide gentle course corrections on our journey home. They bring us from the impossible to the possible. They provide for us the ability to love our enemies and find peace with everyone.
Another process that produces good results for many people is the daily practice of forgiveness. If someone butts in front of us in line, we practice forgiveness. If we inadvertently butt in front of someone else and it comes to our attention, we ask for forgiveness. A simple, “I’m sorry,” is usually sufficient. By daily practicing forgiveness in small ways, we find it easier to forgive in ways that we feel are major hurts in our lives. Forgiveness is a cornerstone in the spiritual journey. It keeps us on the path and helps us to welcome all who would choose to walk beside us.
Seek forgiveness from those we hurt unless doing so would cause further harm.
The struggle in Step Eight is for balance. There is the desire to be forgiven, but also the greater need to do the loving thing. That could mean that we are not able to acquire forgiveness because seeking it would cause further harm to the injured party. Weighing our needs against another’s possible injury is where the balancing act occurs. If there is ever a doubt, then we err on the side of not causing further harm and finding other ways to receive forgiveness.
Many religions believe that the Ultimate Being is ready, willing, and able to forgive whenever we ask, and that the Ultimate Being will not deny any sincere request. At least one religious belief system I’ve encountered doesn’t believe that The Divine forgives, because, as they teach, The Divine doesn’t condemn His children and therefore there is no need for forgiveness. We are the ones who must forgive others, and when we were the injuring party we are the ones who seek their forgiveness.
Whenever it seems wrong to seek forgiveness for fear of opening old wounds and causing further harm, then we can forgive ourselves and also seek forgiveness through a surrogate—someone who stands in for the injured party and tries to see things from their perspective. Often this is a trusted friend, a spiritual individual, or a religious leader. A third party has the advantage of being neutral, and they can help us see things from a different perspective.
Forgiveness is one tool to overcoming anything in life. Setbacks, heartaches, disappointments — whatever struggles we face and whenever we feel broken by life, forgiveness can be used like a shovel to remove all the dirt and filth that we associate with those difficulties. We can talk about how those struggles make us stronger, and that’s all well and good, but when we’re in the middle of those situations we need a way to overcome. Any mistakes we may have made, any mistakes someone else may have made, can be overcome through the power of forgiveness.
Other tools to overcoming also work to our advantage: faith, perseverance, hope, and love all aid in our ability to overcome, but we must not forget that forgiveness coupled with love is the oil that makes the parts fit together smoothly, enabling us to move forward once more.
No one is defeated who refuses to quit, unless that person remains in the failures of the past because she or he cannot get past the hurts, mistakes, and damages. The best way to move forward is to learn from the past, and then put it behind us through loving forgiveness.
There is a passage in what is known as The Lord’s Prayer that states, “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us….” One interpretation is that as we forgive others, we ourselves are forgiven. I wonder if it also means that in the measure that we withhold forgiveness, we also withhold it from ourselves?
The problem for many is that they struggle with forgiving people for cruelties they have inflicted upon them. “I can forgive you for many things, but I’ll never forgive you for what you did to me,” is a sentiment we hear from time to time. We also hear a similar expression when people say, “No matter what, I’ll never forgive myself for what I did.”
Forgiveness is often difficult. The simplest solution to get unstuck is to recite these three simple words, “Help me forgive.” It doesn’t matter if we need to forgive ourselves or another; these words have power to transform our hearts. Maybe not today, maybe not all at once, but in time these words spoken in sincerity will eventually become real, and we will know that we have truly forgiven — and have been forgiven.
We must remember that forgiveness is about us as much as it is about another person. In many situations it is mostly about us. That’s why we guard against destructive forgiveness. True forgiveness is never destructive, but there is a form that appears to be loving and forgiving when in reality it is not.
When we forgive someone for some injustice we perceive they’ve done to us, we should consider first the role of the forgiver versus the one to be forgiven. If those who are doing the forgiving are not careful, he or she may come across as condescending. “Oh, I know you didn’t know any better,” or “You really were a jerk, but I’m going to forgive you anyway,” is not a positive experience of forgiveness.
Be careful not to set yourself up as above the one you choose to forgive. That attitude will come through in your words and your actions. True forgiveness levels the playing field. No one is above or below the other, no matter the details of the transgression. Forgiveness often entails humility on the part of the one seeking forgiveness, but also on the part of the one extending forgiveness who understands the concept of “There, but by the grace of The Divine, go I.” In other words, it could happen to anyone, and someday we might be the one in need of forgiveness and grace.
People sometimes wonder why their world is dark and colorless. For many, the answer has to do with their unwillingness to forgive — either themselves or someone else. Hatred, anger, and revenge are double-edged knives that cut those we hate, but they also pierce our own hearts with bitterness. Where there is no forgiveness, there is an absence of love.
You might say, “I could never forgive him (or her) for what they did to me.” Time changes all things, and it can change those who we feel have betrayed us, and hopefully, time can also change our feelings towards them. The key for individuals who want to stay focused on their spiritual journey is to find forgiveness sooner rather than later. Without forgiveness we can stray off the path and lose our way.
People find different ways of making forgiveness work in their lives. One way I’ve found that has helped me is to consider forgiveness a process. Hurts build over time, and for many, it takes a while to undo the damage. In some situations, this process involves separating ourselves from those who have hurt us.
Both words meditate and medicate share a similar goal, to make us healthy. Medicate deals more specifically with the physical body whereas meditate deals more with the spirit, soul, or emotional health of the individual. Both words share the concept of better health. Medication may seem like a simple solution — take a pill and be healed, but what is often overlooked is the cause. That is where meditation often yields better results.
For many health and emotional issues we can meditate in order to avoid medicating. The practice of meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as sitting alone with our thoughts or daydreaming. Better still is the determination to choose which thoughts we will allow influence over us. Will we meditate on love or hate, peace or strife, gentleness or judgment?
Meditation shouldn’t be hurried, and we don’t have to wait until we are feeling good to begin. The practice should be enjoyable and not something to dread. We don’t have to “succeed.” We simply have to be still, relaxed, and calm. I’m not suggesting we replace medication with meditation. That is an individual’s decision. What I am saying is that meditation can aid in our overall health, and can be a wonderful spiritual practice.
Love is not a destination but an experience. Love is a feeling but also a commitment. Love is not passive but active. In this present moment, and in every moment to come, choose love, for love is a choice and not something that simply happens to us. We feel love from others, but until we also give love, it is not complete.
If we want to love as The Divine loves, then love should be given to all in equal proportion. And, don’t forget, love is given to ourselves as well as to others. A good healthy dose of love for self, partner, neighbor, and enemies is the only remedy our world needs. Give love without strings attached. Give it freely to all who ask and to those who don’t. Give it to those who seem to refuse it. Love, like water, can transform the landscape from a barren desert to a plush oasis.
On this day, and on every day, remember that love is not a destination, but a state of mind, a state of being, a state of heart, and a state of our souls. The more we give, the greater is our capacity to receive and to give more. Be in a state of love — always and for all time.
Choose to forgive those who hurt us in the name of religion.
Let’s look at what is probably the most difficult religious abuse that an individual would need to forgive, a religious leader that sexually abused us or our children. I don’t have personal experience with this issue, but I’ve met a few people who have. If we can forgive under these circumstances then it seems all other transgressions pale in comparison.
Since I don’t know, and I hope I never have to experience sexual abuse to my family or a close friend, I can’t tell you how I would react. I hope at some point I would make peace with the past and find it in my heart to forgive. I know that I would never forget the incident, and that I would do everything in my power to see that no one else could be abused by this individual.
One thing I am sure of, my emotions would be overloaded, and my anger would be nearly uncontrollable. Rage, hatred, thoughts of murder would certainly come to mind. How to find forgiveness among all those raw and painful emotions certainly requires more strength than I think I am capable of.
Some people don’t think forgiveness is much of a miracle, but I do. When people are able to forgive and even accept the one who attacked them (or their child) as still a person of value is beyond natural ability and demonstrates the power of Divine Love expressed in our humanity. Forgiveness is a miracle, and one of the most important, yet difficult, miracles we can give or receive.
Choose to forgive those who hurt us in the name of religion.
We write a lot about forgiveness because we consider it the fundamental key to overcome any kind of hurts, disappointments, or abuses in our lives. Forgiveness and love work together to set us free from the abuses of the past. These two principals allow us to release the past, and also to transform it into something beneficial for the present.
Forgiveness is our choice. Because of our freewill, no one can force us to forgive. We can hold onto resentments, grievances, grudges, bitterness, anger, and offenses as long as we want. But, while we choose to retain those negatives feelings we also hold onto misery, gloom, sorrow, heartaches, suffering, worry, despair, and unhappiness. We also attract health issues such as headaches, depression, neck pain, high blood pressure, increased heart rates, and we become more susceptible to heart disease and other sicknesses.
It doesn’t surprise me that an unforgiving heart can create physical as well as spiritual heart problems. But, the choice is always ours alone to make. We know smoking is harmful to our health, but many people choose to smoke anyway. Likewise we know that withholding forgiveness is bad for our physical, mental, and spiritual health, but many people choose to hold onto their grievances. They hurt themselves, and at times, can hurt the ones they love. If we want to live in freedom then forgiveness is the path of choice.
Some people believe forgiveness is too easy. Say the words, I’m sorry, and that’s the end of it. What these people claim is that saying the words and meaning them are not always the same. Perhaps that is true. But saying them is a start. Those who struggle with saying the words find it difficult to let go of past grievances and live a spiritual life. It is as if they want to live in the past and hold onto those resentments.
Forgiveness gives us permission to let go and begin again. Those who find it difficult to forgive someone else, often find it difficult to forgive themselves. But when we decide to forgive, the Universe provides us with a clean slate. Yes, we might muddy it up again in the next five seconds, but we can wipe the slate clean as often as we need to.
The Divine is always ready to forgive. We are the ones who are reluctant. Even when we make poor choices, we can just as easily and simply forgive, and then choose differently. In this fashion we can undo the mistakes of the past and build a better present and future. Let’s give ourselves permission to begin again.
Because The Divine created the laws of the Universe, The Divine can just as easily ignore or reverse those laws. We are impressed with physical miracles like healing, but we often pay little or no attention when love miracles reverse or set aside the direction of someone’s life. Because we see, feel, or can touch a physical miracle we are more astonished. But love miracles can be more powerful in a person’s life and in our world.
Imagine the miracle that changed Mother Teresa’s life, and how the love miracles she gave to those dying in Calcutta affected not only India, but the entire planet. Imagine the miracle that changed the life of Siddhārtha Gautama who was raised to be a prince, but after he encountered poverty for the first time dedicated his life to seeking the spiritual path and came to be known as the Buddha. His sacrifice of the rich life planned for him was a miracle of love that changed the world.
We often think of the miracles of Jesus as being the evidence that he had a divine connection far beyond the scope of most individuals and even many other spiritual leaders. But, I propose it was not his physical miracles that changed the world as much as it was his miracles of love and forgiveness that set multitudes of people free. If we want to change the world, then love is the miracle that will bring about the transformation. As we take inventory of ways in which we have hurt others, let us extend forgiveness and love miracles to ourselves by seeking forgiveness and granting forgiveness to those we hurt in the name of religion and to those who hurt us in the name of religion.
I was taught that miracles occur when The Divine momentarily sets aside the natural laws of the Universe. I’ve often wanted to perform miracles. What I failed to comprehend was the miraculous power of love. According to a worldly mindset, wrongs need to be righted. An eye-for-an-eye mentality is prevalent and dominates the majority of world thought when it comes to how to treat one another.
Love suspends the law of justice and uses forgiveness to replace it with the law of grace. Grace is often defined as unmerited favor. Instead of punishment, we are forgiven. Instead of imprisonment of the mind or of the body, we find freedom. Where hate threatens to overpower us, love has the strength to abolish hatred and bring peace. Love is a miracle and perhaps the only miracle we need. Turning water into wine is a showstopper, but forgiveness and love are the true signs of strength and power.
Anyone and everyone can perform love miracles, and the more we perform, the more we transform the world — ours and others, and the global community. I no longer strive to perform healing miracles, healings of the body, that is. But I do strive to perform healings of the heart and spirit by practicing forgiveness and love every day. Miracles will happen. You may not notice them at first because it’s like watching grass grow. But the grass does grow, and miracles of love happen all around us.
In 2001, the movie Shallow Hal debuted — a romantic comedy starring Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jason Alexander. In the movie, Hal Larson, played by Jack Black, was a superficial womanizer who saw only the outer beauty of a woman. After an encounter with Tony Robbins, he is hypnotized into seeing only the inner beauty of a person. People who were ugly on the inside are now seen as ugly on the outside, and those he saw as physically unattractive yet who held an inner beauty were now seen as lovely individuals.
The movie’s theme plays out in typical Hollywood style with the usual twists and turns until the female and male protagonists find true love and ride off together to live happily-ever-after. I love the story and the lessons it teaches, but perhaps the message falls a little short.
In my revised version of the film, Shallow Hal would not only see the beauty and worth of individuals deemed “ugly” by society, but he would also look deeper into the soul of each individual and see the inherent worth of everyone he encountered. We are all creations of The Divine, and if for no other reason than that — we are beautiful and perfectly created in Divine likeness. Of course, my remake probably wouldn’t sell many tickets at the box office, but it would be a more accurate description of who we are.
When we are have a disagreement, the moment we feel anger is often the moment we stop striving for the truth and start striving for ourselves. In a heated discussion we tend to lose sight of the problem and we use all weapons at our disposal to defeat our foe. We bring up past failures, hurts, and cruelties our opponent was guilty of. We close our ears to any valid points being made. We fight for victory, but only after the battle is over do we realize we were in a lose/lose situation — and often it’s all because we lost our temper.
Bridled anger can, in some circumstances, be a positive emotion. But, unbridled I-want-to-hurt-you anger damages both opponents. Marriages end because of uncontrolled anger. Wars are fought because of unrestrained anger. In the realm of spirituality, anger is usually only useful in showing us we have left the path of peace and love.
This detour doesn’t have to keep us from returning to the path. Forgiveness and love break down the walls that anger built. Understanding, patience, and tolerance can help us bridge the gap and close the chasm that separates us. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get angry. But, we can release the emotion simply by willing it to be so and by replacing it with forgiveness and love.
Forgiveness is at the core of Steps Six, Seven, and Eight. Daily forgiveness of someone, ourselves, or of others might not be a practice with which we’re accustomed. In the prayer Christians refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” prayer, Jesus instructs his followers to pray: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Doesn’t it seem likely that we will hurt someone during the course of the day, even if it’s only in our thought life? Doesn’t it also seem likely someone will trespass or hurt us by something they say, do, or think? If so, then there is a need for daily forgiveness. Just as there is a need to love every day, there is also a need to forgive every day. There may be times when we can’t recall something that needs to be forgiven, and that’s wonderful. But, I propose that those days are rare. There are always those times when we showed less love than we could have. Times when we could have been more compassionate. There are also times when well-intentioned plans went wrong.
As part of our daily prayer, meditation, or perhaps as a refrain, let’s remember to forgive those who hurt us, and seek forgiveness from those we have hurt. We make this request to The Divine, and if the opportunity presents itself to ask forgiveness in person, we will be ready.
At times our efforts at making peace and seeking forgiveness are premature. Arguments flare over petty problems and leave us wounded and hurting. We don’t like those feelings, and we want to resolve them as quickly as possible. But, if we try to make peace too quickly we may only find the wounds too fresh and we become embroiled in the battle once again.
Root Beer is one of my favorite soft drinks, and I love to pour it into a frosted mug. If I pour it too quickly, however, it generates a lot of foam. If I continue to pour without allowing time for the foam to settle, I end up pushing the foam out of the mug and making a mess. I have to be patient. If I pour slowly I can usually avoid the foam in the first place.
Relationships can create similar results. If we handle them with care and patiently work through difficult situations, we can often avoid the experience known as “foaming at the mouth.” If, however, the anger and resentment arises to the top, then time often allows the situation to defuse, or in this case, de-foam. But, pushing too soon — before the foam has subsided — usually makes matters worse.
Take inventory of ourselves to discover any way in which we have hurt, disappointed, or abused anyone by our religious beliefs.
According to the law of karma, we bring upon ourselves inevitable results based upon our actions. I don’t know that I believe karma to be an unbreakable law but I do believe that we often reap what we sow. As we consider Step Six, it appears that what we are saying is that we examine our lives to determine whether we have hurt, disappointed, or abused people in the name of religion.
Perhaps we have, but perhaps we have not. But, maybe we have hurt, disappointed, or abused people in other ways and for other reasons. Some people view karma like the Christian/Judeo concept of an eye for an eye. But karma doesn’t always pay back—or reward back—in the exact manner in which it was given. We give money and, according to karma, we receive. But, not necessarily money. We might receive the things that money can buy, or more importantly, we might receive the things money can’t buy.
Personally, I know that I have abused people by my religious beliefs, and I have tried, and am still trying, to make amends. One of my goals now is to make sure I am not currently hurting anyone by my beliefs. Now my goal is healing and freedom.
Step Twelve of Alcoholics Anonymous encourages its followers to carry their message to other alcoholics. Steps Twelve and Thirteen of Religious Recovery encourages its followers to be a Light to point the way but to not be aggressive in our approach. Rather, we recognize our subject matter is often volatile, and we wait until the students are ready. Religious Recovery also recognizes our lives bear witness to our recovery — whether it is a good witness or whether our lives are still in need of healing determines a positive or negative encounter.
Often people who overcome an addiction become the most vocal against the “demons” that had them under its spell. By being so boisterous about their newfound sobriety or weight loss, they often have an adverse effect on the people they want to help. But, there is a strong need within us to help — to teach what we have learned — and whether we recognize it or not, that need is not as much for others as it is in grounding the healing more firmly within ourselves.
As the saying goes, old habits die hard,. Helping others is a good way to strengthen our resolve not to slip back into those old habits. We applaud the efforts of Alcoholics Anonymous and their realization of how important it is to give back. Religious Recovery agrees, but our only concern is to be sensitive to when we are pushing our personal beliefs on another who is not interested, and who might be driven further away from anything religious or spiritual. We do not want to be the problem, but merely a guide to help them discover their solutions.
At times I’m asked if Religious Recovery is a thirteen-week program, meaning do we work one Step per work until the program is finished. Individuals have also asked if the Steps should be worked in order. The answer is yes and no. If a person wants to work the Steps in order, one week at a time, then they are free to so. The important thing is not the order or the agenda, but simply to work the Steps. Work them in order or in no order. Skip any of the Steps you want to skip — either because you feel you don’t need that Step or perhaps you sense you’re not ready for it.
In some of the twelve-step meetings I’ve attended I’ve heard the phrase, “It works if you work it.” The Steps of Religious Recovery are able to heal us from religious hurts if we will let them. But, going a step further, the Steps are also able to heal us in other areas. Step Seven emboldens us to “Choose to forgive those who hurt us in the name of religion,” but if we leave off the last five words we see the simple wisdom to simply forgive those who hurt us, whether or not that involved a religion is not important. Forgive those who hurt us.
The Steps contain powerful words of wisdom to help us heal from hurts and abuses no matter where those hurts and abuses originated — even if we are the source of the pain. After all, we are generally our worst critic. Work the Steps, and you’ll find the courage to change.
Every once in a while it’s healthy and fun to set aside a dream day. A day specifically set aside to just dream. Some dreams that immediately come to my mind are of winning the lottery, buying a new car, relaxing on a beach, or climbing a mountain. Our daily lives often seem so unremarkable that by simply taking time to relax and daydream about what could be, we can be revitalized, strengthened, and given something different to anticipate.
The first dreams that come to my mind are often shallow. After all, we know that many of the things I listed will not bring lasting happiness. So, during the course of our dream day, we pause to consider different types of dreams. We dream of a world without war, hatred, and bigotry. We dream of a world where everyone respects one another — and also our planet.
We might dream of a world without boundaries because we no longer fear those who seem to be different from us. We dream of a world where we champion the cause for love, and where Light blocks out all spiritual darkness. We might even dream of a world where religions no longer feud with one another, and where faith has become personal freedom and not fear of punishment. Let’s make time for dreams. Who knows, we might see them come true.
In Religious Recovery the relationships are not between healers and patients but between patients and patients, because we recognize our own need for healing no matter where we are on our spiritual journey. It is not the function of the group, or of the facilitator, to attempt to heal another. The Modified Serenity Prayer reminds us that the only one we can change is ourselves, and only when we have changed ourselves can others be helped by us. Not necessarily by direct teaching, but in the group dynamics that come about in the 13-step program of Religious Recovery.
Another way to say the same thing is: the only way we can help others heal others is to be in a state of healing. We can’t force another to be healed, but when we heal ourselves, little by little, we offer the example of our lives. We see a healthy person and it inspires us to be healthy. We see a happy person and we want to be happy. No one can make us healthy or happy. Every individual has to choose what his or her own life will be.
What we can do is to show our courage. Change is not for the timid. The fearful are not healed, not changed, and seldom break free from the self-made bonds they have imposed. But, when we see an individual who has broken free and is making a better world, it inspires us and gives us courage to follow — or to even blaze our own trail. We ask Divine Spirit to help us realize there is only one person we can change, and that one is us.
Ben Cohen of “Ben & Jerry’s” created a candy using Brazil nuts. He discovered there was a lot of dust left over from the process of grinding the nuts. Instead of throwing the dust away as garbage, he wondered if he could use the dust as a flour to create cookies. His commitment to use everything possible helped him create a new cookie and a new product.
How often do we throw away lives because we see no hope? Specifically, how often are we tempted to throw away our lives because of our failures, addictions, and mistakes? In The Divine scheme of things, there is no such thing as garbage. Whether we realize it or not, our lives have meaning. Our mistakes have value even if only to show us how not to do a thing. But our lives are infinitely more valuable than we can ever imagine, and if we think we are worthless, then we are mistaken.
We may not understand the reasons for where we are, how we got here, and what we must do to get our lives together, but time has a way of bringing things together. No matter the depths of our despair, there are reasons and purposes that work like the flour that forms the foundation of the cookie. Trust that the Universe will waste nothing.
Driving: I remember the days of teaching my teenage children how to drive. Until the age of sixteen, my wife and I had driven them wherever they needed to go. Now, according to some arbitrary law, they were old enough to earn a license and drive on their own. Someday, sooner than I want, I will need them to drive me to places I need to go because I will no longer have the ability to drive myself.
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Our purpose is to help individuals to heal who have been injured by religion or the religious. We welcome your comments and questions.