Since I moved to the USA in 2010, I have met a substantial number of people who have been angry at their religion. Some have been angry because they felt they had been lied to—which was why they left the church—others have been angry for more serious reasons, such as physical abuse that was based on religious doctrine, or excommunication from a community, where even the family members refused to talk to them. Several of the stories have been horrific.
For me, it has been truly saddening, maddening even, to listen to these stories, especially because, from the outside, America portrays itself as a beacon of religious tolerance.
Having said that, I want to make a suggestion. If you feel wronged by people wielding religion as their sword against you, please consider forgiveness as a way to relieve your anger, fear, and frustration. The people you are angry at may not deserve it, but you do.
Forgiving May Not Be What You Think It Is
Ever since I translated Gerald Jampolsky’s book, Forgiveness: The Greatest Healer of All, from English to Icelandic, I have been a strong proponent of the forgiveness process.
When I started speaking publicly about the topic, however, I soon realized that people often conflate three concepts, (a) forgiveness, (b) condoning, and (c) reconnecting.
Allow me to clarify.
Forgiveness is an internal process of letting go. You refuse to allow destructive emotions to live rent-free in your head. You stop wishing for a better past. You stop allowing the perpetrator to keep hurting you long after the incident in question took place.
This is by no means easy. Nevertheless, true forgiveness is about reclaiming control of your own emotions. You let go of the thoughts and emotions that keep hurting you. It is a process. You may need help. But it is possible.
However, when you forgive, you are neither condoning behavior nor reconnecting automatically with the perpetrator. I say this because many people erroneously think that when they forgive they are saying that what happened was okay and now they have to be best friends with the person and/or organization that they are forgiving. I call that playground forgiveness.
“Stop fighting, kids!”
“Now, say sorry.”
“Are you friends now?”
“Get back to playing.”
But that is not how the real world works. Sure, you can internally forgive by letting go of destructive emotions, but, at the same time, you can be strongly opposed to the behavior that hurt you, seek justice, and refuse to reconnect with the person or organization.
Forgiveness is Peace of Mind
It took me a while to firmly grasp this idea. When I realized that I could forgive and yet keep my distance from the person who wronged me, that I could forgive and yet stand firm against the behavior that injured me, it was truly freeing.
The same can be true for you.
You are allowed to let go of the thoughts and emotions that are causing you harm, but whether or not you condone a behavior or reconnect is a separate issue.
Of course, this becomes more difficult when family is involved and I have always suggested a path towards reconciliation and reconnection when possible, but when it is not possible, you can still forgive.
Forgiveness results in peace of mind. It is not the same as forgetting. You will know that forgiveness has truly taken place when you can think of the person or organization that wronged you without inflaming the destructive emotions that used to be eating you up from the inside.
It’s a process, it’s not easy, but it’s worth every effort.
At some point, you may begin to see your religion in a new light and may even want to reconnect, but that is by no means the goal of forgiving.
Let me repeat it one more time.
You can forgive without reconnecting or condoning. You are not saying that what happened was okay or that everything is now fine between you and the hurtful party when you forgive. That is a separate process. What you are saying is that you are no longer responsible for carrying the hurt with you wherever you go.
Take the First Step
Forgiveness can happen in an instant or it can be a long drawn out process. The first step is always to open the door.
Allow yourself to say: “Maybe, just maybe, I can forgive.”
Then you might want to read Jampolsky’s book or another book about forgiveness. Work with a friend. Work with a therapist. Get the help you need.
Carrying anger, fear, hatred, and sorrow around is a heavy burden.
Give yourself the possibility of experiencing emotional freedom.
Author & Interfaith Minister
Here is a link to a video of me giving a talk about this subject at Unity Church of the Hills in 2012.
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