People make mistakes.

Author and historian Thomas Fuller said, “He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.”  I’ll say it again, people make mistakes. A bridge has two sides. At some point in your life, you will hurt someone you care about, and you will want their forgiveness. Will there be a bridge in place for you to cross when the time comes?

I have worked with clients from a variety of cultures, ethnicities, races, socioeconomic classes and ages, and despite all their differences, every client I have ever served has one thing in common when it comes to the subject of forgiveness. They have all been hurt by someone they care about, and they have hurt someone they care about. The common thread of the human condition is imperfection. No one is perfect. Not a one of us. We all need forgiveness.  

Protests such as, but you don’t know what he did to me, she ruined my life, and I will never get over it, are often barriers to forgiveness. These are valid points, and are difficult obstacles to overcome, though not impossible. A common hindrance to forgiveness, though easier to manage, is simply not knowing how. Barriers to forgiveness are born either out of a lack of willingness, or a lack of ability. The latter is easier to conquer. The good news is that forgiveness is a learned skill. Some education on the process can help anyone who feels they don’t know how to forgive.

A book I highly recommend to help with the how to’s of forgiveness, is, Forgive For Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness, by Dr. Fred Luskin, Director and Cofounder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. If you are struggling with the concept of forgiveness, or if you want to forgive someone who has deeply wounded you, but feel stuck and just don’t know how, this is the book for you. It will change your life. Forgiveness will change your life.

My own personal experience with forgiveness has been life changing. I had been holding on to years of disappointment, fear, sadness, and betrayal by someone whom I had trusted, and yet, had wounded me repeatedly, in a way that felt unforgiveable to me. The history of hurt was long and haunting. I carried my grievances around like a 100-pound weight. The result was a crushing pressure that manifested permanently in the middle of my chest. I lived this way for several years. When I thought about all of the things this person had done, it resulted in a domino effect of heartache and despair, and I could barely breathe. I was depressed and anxious. I couldn’t concentrate. I had lost my joy. I felt certain that the daily emotional pain I experienced would never end.

One of my spiritual mentors, whom I trusted and respected, and who knew my whole story, told me I needed to forgive this person. At first, I was indignant. My mentor knew the havoc this person had wreaked in my life and my children’s lives, and the ripple effect of pain that touched others whom I cared about. I reacted to my mentor’s urgings, much the same way some of my clients now react to me when I recommend forgiveness: you want me to do what?!

But truthfully, I was tired. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Tired of feeling lifeless. Tired of not being able to breathe. Tired of dragging through my life. Tired of being depressed. This wasn’t me. I wanted my joy back. I wanted my life back. So I took a leap of faith. I made the choice to forgive him. Forgiveness is a choice. I chose to let go of the bitterness, the anger, the resentment, the disappointments. I let go of the hurt. And something amazing happened. I literally felt as if a weight was lifted off of me when I made the choice to forgive. The crushing boulder-like pressure on my chest disappeared. That was 10 years ago, and it has never returned. I could breathe again. My depression and anxiety evaporated. I felt empowered. Alive. Free. Strong. Forgiveness changed my life.

Hope whispers, Forgive. No one is perfect.

Forgiveness is also a process. It’s not a, one and done, kind of thing. Sometimes the same person you just forgave today, will hurt you again tomorrow. You can choose to live in a state of forgiveness, habitually letting go of hurts, heartaches, and the disappointment you feel when someone lets you down. Or, you can habitually pick up all of those offenses and carry them around. The choice is yours. But know that if you choose to carry your resentments, you will eventually pay the price in some aspect of your health. Forgiveness is one choice that the fields of medical science, psychology and spirituality all agree serve up major health benefits. Research in the last decade validates that forgiveness reduces depression, improves emotional resilience, increases a sense of hopefulness and self-confidence, improves spiritual connection, reduces stress, decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers, and improves nervous system function. Forgiveness is good for your health!

In Washington, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Pink and white flowers glow in the spring breeze, and the fragrant aroma that fills the air is a sweet reminder of the revitalizing effects of forgiveness. Spring is a time of new beginnings, growth, and fresh starts – so is forgiveness. It’s also Easter week as I write this. Forgiveness is one of the cornerstones of the Easter story. What better time to practice the principle of forgiveness in your life. Feeling weary or weighed down? Try letting go of your grudges, and holding on to forgiveness instead. Grudges are heavy. Forgiveness is weightless. What have you got to lose, except some burdens you were never meant to carry?