Recently, I heard a story about a woman who, in the midst of a large group where everybody was joking around, made an inappropriate comment. She didn’t think it was inappropriate, otherwise she wouldn’t have said it. She was contributing to a conversation where everybody’s humor was feeding off of each other, and her intention was to help continue the laughter.
Unfortunately, someone was offended by her comment. Once she thought about it, she recognized how it could have been perceived as insensitive and she apologized to that person and everybody else in the group. She took responsibility for her actions in every way possible, and almost everybody accepted and recognized it for what it was—a poor comment that was spawned in the heat of a moment. However, the person who took offense won’t accept her apology.
Why are we so reluctant to forgive someone who truly feels bad and wants to make it right? This woman can’t put the words back into her mouth. Her motivation was not to hurt someone. I can think back to more than a few times when I’ve said more than I should have or in a way that I shouldn’t have, but my intent was never born out of malice.
Unfortunately, this reluctance to forgive happens most often in our families. I’ll bet everyone reading this column can think of someone in their immediate or extended family who is estranged—or was at one time. Or perhaps someone in your family isn’t talking to someone else because that person isn’t willing to seek forgiveness or the other person isn’t willing to accept it. We waste years and what could be beautiful memories because forgiveness stands between us like a cement wall.
If only people realized that the person who chooses not to forgive is likely to suffer more than the person seeking forgiveness. The person who holds on to forgiveness like an object of great worth will experience negative consequences. According to johnhopkinsmedicine.org, people who hang on to grudges are more likely to go through severe depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and other health conditions. They claim that a study conducted by the Fetzer Institute revealed that 62 percent of American adults say they need more forgiveness in their personal lives.
That’s why we need to understand forgiveness from a different perspective— if we don’t learn to forgive, our marriages and families will suffer. Forgiveness isn’t about whether we have both felt certain emotions equally or we’re letting someone get away with an act that caused us great harm. It’s about trying to heal a situation that cannot heal without forgiveness. It’s about letting go of our pride and giving people grace.
Perhaps today you and your spouse, your child or a parent are dealing with something that has caused tremendous pain. It’s left you both paralyzed and unable to make the next move. The truth is that one of you needs to initiate forgiveness. Then, both of you need to activate forgiveness. This can be accomplished by accepting the apology, agreeing to move forward and, hopefully, considering the issue resolved so that it doesn’t resurface down the road. And if your apology isn’t accepted, know that you still did the right thing and what is healthiest for you.
So, think about it. Who do you need to forgive today or who do you need to seek forgiveness from? It’s the only way to begin a reconciliation and start winning at home.