MANY people do not understand forgiveness. They think that forgiving someone is dependent on the other person’s repentance. “How can I forgive if the other person is not sorry?” is their battlecry.
At a seminar long ago, I encountered a woman I’ll call Linda (not her real name). Linda was in her mid-30’s and worked in middle management in a Makati firm. When she started sharing, the anger in her voice was thick and palpable. She talked about her job and how she felt she was being unfairly treated by her boss -- how she had been expecting a promotion twice already but had been bypassed in favor of people who were her juniors.
The facilitator, I’ll call him Gary (also not his real name), asked about her childhood and so she talked about her mother, who had worked as an OFW when she was around six and later ran off with another man. She had never come back, leaving her father alone to raise Linda and her brother. Every time Linda saw her father drunk and crying in the kitchen, her hatred for her mother grew more and more.
“But now that you’re all grown up and are already a mother yourself, have you forgiven her?,” asked Gary.
“How can I forgive her when I don’t even know if she’s sorry for what she has done?,” said Linda.
“You know what, Linda? Forgiveness isn’t about the other person. It’s about you. Forgiveness is about not letting the pain of your past affect your present. You are obviously holding on to your anger. What benefit do you get out of it?” asked Gary. “I don’t know, nothing, It just stresses me out,” said Linda.
“That’s not true,” said Gary. “If you weren’t getting anything out of it, you wouldn’t be holding on to it for so long. Here, let me demonstrate.”
Gary walks over to a table and picks up a rubber ball used in a previous activity. He gives it to Linda and asks her to grip it tight, which she does. “Don’t loosen your grip,” said Gary. After a minute or so, Gary asked, “How does your hand feel?” Linda says, “Tired and tense, can I let go of the ball now?” “Sure,” says Gary, “Just open your hand and let it drop.” Linda drops the ball.
Then Gary says, “You know, Linda, your hand felt tired and stressed after just a minute of gripping the ball. And yet your heart has been holding tight to this anger since you were six. That’s around 30 years. Like I said, you wouldn’t be holding on to it if it did not benefit you in some way. Letting it go would be as simple as letting that ball drop. You want to know what you’re getting out of it?” “Yes,” said Linda.
“What you’re getting out of it is that you have someone to blame -- and that’s a tremendous benefit,” Gary said. “When your life goes wrong, you look back and remember your mother, who didn’t love you enough, who left you and your father and brother to fend for yourselves. It’s her fault your life is a mess. It’s her fault you grew up this way, and so on and so forth. And very often, that anger is what drives you to push yourself to succeed, to prove to her that you can make it without her, that despite what she did, you will still win.” Linda nods. “But remember that anger also carwhich ries a heavy price. It takes a toll on your mind and body. Just as your hand grew tired of gripping the ball, your body also suffers because of your anger, and it even radiates to those around you.”
Gary turns to the rest of the attendees and asks, “How many of you felt Linda’s anger the moment she started speaking?” Everyone of us, including me, raised our hands.
“See?” said Gary. “That is the price you pay. Maybe that’s why your boss doesn’t promote you, because he feels that anger too, and may deem you unfit or emotionally incapable of handling the higher position. Maybe that’s why you get frequent headaches and tire easily. Linda, you are now an adult and you have made something of yourself. You have made a lot of life decisions that have nothing whatsoever to do with your mother. So why do you continue to let the memory of what she did haunt you? Let it go now and be free.”
We then had some more activities during the rest of the seminar and Linda did let go. She forgave her mother and was a very happy woman at the end of the seminar. Even today when I get the occasional chance to talk to her, she seems very different from how I first perceived her. She still talks about her past, but it is just normal storytelling with no more overtones of hate or anger. Genuine forgiveness brings a person into a space of real joy and peace.