Nobody holds a grudge like I do. Not an admirable trait, but I’m working on it. Like so much of my inner work, I look to Marianne Williamson for spiritual guidance on how to forgive. My copy of Illuminata, her book of prayers first published in 1994, has a permanent bookmark on page 132, where her prayer for forgiveness begins. I’ve said this prayer many times, and have been gratefully amazed with the results.
The holidays can be a stressful time, especially if you know you are going to see someone who has hurt your feelings or harmed you in other ways so that you’re harboring a grudge. The longer the grudge is held, the harder it is to let go of…so you can’t just read pages 132-134 once and be done. I have a person right now I’m trying to forgive. It has been weeks, and I cannot get over what they said to me. What makes it worse is waiting for an apology that will likely never come.
For years I wondered why a person who found God and went total Christian failed to apologize for something horrible he did to me way back when. I had to work on forgiving him for years. I’m still working on it! And it’s harder without the apology. In fact, the minute someone says “I’m sorry” I automatically forgive them. But this guy, never gonna say those words. I finally figured out why: because it happened so long ago, he has a different story of what happened than I do. In his version, he did nothing wrong. In my version, my life was negatively impacted for many years, until I learned to forgive him by using Marianne’s prayer.
My mom and I had a Come to Jesus moment a few years ago, when she kept asking me to read a particular book. I didn’t want to because I knew the parents of the character in the book do something horrible to their daughter, the same thing my parents tried to do to me. Finally, after one more time of Mom saying “You must read this book!” I blew. “You know why I can’t.” Mom was clueless. So I told her. Which led to the whole drama of my teen years–some things she forgot, some things she remembered differently, some things she explained away. But she did apologize. Right after I told her that I had saved my teenage journals.
Anything I write in my journal, I know to be true. I keep journals for myself. Nobody else gets to read them. Anyway, back to this recent grudge. I knew I would see this person at a holiday gathering. I decided to say the forgiveness prayer with her in mind twice a day for ten days. It’s a long prayer, and that’s a long time to focus on one person and one thing. But it is the only way I know to put the grudge behind me for good and also not feel awkward around her during the party. Forgiving is so worth it. When we fail to forgive, it eats away at us, it fuels anger and frurstration, it is just plain bad. In Marianne’s prayer, we ask for forgiveness not only for the one who wronged us, but for ourselves, too. Because when we fail to forgive, we fail our best selves.
So…what if you don’t believe in prayer? I have atheist and agnostic friends. Prayer is just not their bag. But they are all very smart people who have used their intelligence to come to their own conclusions about life and death. To those people I say, use your intelligence to forgive. Just bring a mental picture to mind of the person you need to forgive and then say “I forgive you.” You may have to do it a lot. And don’t forget to forgive yourself in the process. If you use your mental ability, cognitive skill will help you get to forgiveness. You’re forming a habit of mind, and it is one that will make you happy for the holidays.
There is one person I will never, ever forgive. I’m just not doing it, because he doesn’t deserve anyone’s forgiveness as far as I’m concerned. I know how that sounds, and I don’t care. I’m not devoting the energy to the effort to forgive someone who has harmed people I love. If that makes me a bad person, so be it. Luckily, I will rarely, if ever, have to see him. Last time I did, he was rude and vicious toward me. So fuck him.
Oh HIM! He’s the exception to the rule:)
I had trouble with forgiveness until I heard it explained that forgiveness is for person who was wronged – it stops the cycle of blame and anger and brings peace to the forgiver. I probably heard someone on the old “Phil Donahue” show say that! But that worked for me. And I can forgive someone and still not like them or want to be in their presence.
Yes, you’re right, Sharon. It’s for my benefit as well as the person who I can’t forgive. And to be honest, I might not do it if I didn’t know that it would help me more than the other guy. Marianne Williamson is who I heard this from–she was minister at my church for a few years, but even before then I listened to her lectures on cassette tapes. She lived in Los Angeles so I was amazed and thrilled when she came to Detroit to lead our congregation for a few years.