STEP SEVEN CONTINUED: Choose to forgive those who hurt us in the name of religion.
Instruction: Don’t set limits.
We might think we only have a certain amount of forgiveness, but when we set limits, we prevent ourselves from experiencing full joy and freedom. When it comes to religion, we hold religious leaders to a higher standard of behavior. When they fail to live up to our expectations, we find it difficult to forgive them for not measuring up to the ideal of what we think they should be, how we think they should act, and what we think they should be able to do for us. We expect someone who is connected with The Divine to be much more God-like in every aspect of his or her life. When they prove to be as fallible as we are, we find it difficult to forgive, and at times, nearly impossible to make excuses for them or to offer a second chance. Of course, it is also true that some go to the other extreme and find it all too easy to forgive and make allowances that shouldn’t be made. A reasonable balance is called for when it comes to trusting them to continue in a leadership role, but forgiveness can and should be offered by all. Let me emphasize that forgiving and overlooking abusive behavior are not the same. We forgive because it sets us free, but if a leader’s behavior is such that corrective measures are appropriate, then we take those corrective measures.
We forgive in order to be forgiven. As we extend forgiveness, we find it will be extended to us. When we withhold forgiveness it is withheld from us. We will continue to mention this principle because it is so important to understand that forgiveness sets us free more than it sets those who we forgive free. In fact, there are certain situations where the abuse calls for the removal of a person’s freedom, so that they cannot repeat the same behavior against another child or another adult. Instead of limiting the amount of forgiveness we will extend by saying, “I could never forgive them for what they did to me,” let’s open our hearts instead and say, “Somehow, by the grace of a Power greater than me, I will forgive.” When we set limits, we often find the Universe pushes us to those extremes—not to punish us, but to move us in a direction where we are not limiting the love we give, because the more love and forgiveness we extend, the more will be extended to us.
Consider whether there are any ways in which you might limit forgiveness. Can you move those limits even if ever so slightly? Perhaps simply stating something like, “Maybe in time I can forgive, but for now I’m not ready.” A simple statement like this allows seeds of forgiveness to be sown in our hearts. Let us find ways to water those seeds.
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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.