Once we have experienced heartache and distress in our lives, compassion becomes an emotion that we are able to extend naturally. I recall a time when I had car trouble and someone stopped to offer assistance. My battery was dead and I needed a jump, but I had left my cables in my wife’s car. Having someone come to my rescue awakened gratefulness and a desire to offer help to someone else that was stranded. It wasn’t long before I came upon a fellow motorist parked alongside the road with their emergency lights flashing. Compassion rose inside my heart and I pulled over to help.
This example is simple, but the real value of compassion is learned when we have gone through much more difficult times other than a dead battery. When we are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness; when our marriage ends; when one of our children struggles with their sexuality—or when we do—compassion then becomes a valuable and loving emotion. When we have been through a trial by fire, we are less likely to judge another, especially if we will take the time to listen to our hearts.
Forgiveness doesn’t always need to be spoken. In fact, forgiveness must begin in the silence of our hearts. Before approaching someone to offer a verbal apology and to ask for their forgiveness, we must decide if that action will yield positive or negative results. If we approach an individual and there remains within us a trace of blame or judgment, the result might lead to an argument and accusations all over again.
Sometimes we think we are ready to forgive—and be forgiven—when we are not. At these times it is best to practice unspoken forgiveness until we are certain we are ready. If it still doesn’t work, and the breach of trust or friendship remains, we go back to unspoken forgiveness. If we still feel a need to take a specific action, then secret acts of kindness can help bridge the distance.
If someone is angry at us for something we did, and they refuse to accept our apology, then by secretly showing them acts of kindness we can make their world better in small ways. Don’t disregard the power of these seemingly simple acts of loving forgiveness. Even one has the power to change a life, and as they accumulate over time, they have strength beyond what we can imagine.
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 that 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 that 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.
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