I taught a class today on conflict resolution at a homeless shelter this past week. As we were doing some self-reflection over the struggles in our lives and the impact they have had on our self-image I asked the group a very simple question, “What is your greatest hope for yourself?” One lady said, “I hope to become a social worker and help women who are victims of abuse like myself.”
Another man who spent time in the prison system raised his voice and said, “I want to become a chaplain and help mentor young men who are struggling without direction.”
I was impressed by the depth and sincerity of their answers. Then an older gentleman in worn-out clothing paused for a moment and then cleared his throat, letting you know that what he was about to share was very important to him.
“I am old,” he began. “I am going to die soon. I don’t have any big aspirations or dreams. I only have one request.”
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He paused for another moment and his face became lost in thought. Lowering his head, these words fell of his lips, “I just want forgiveness.”
I have come to the realization that this is one of our greatest needs as human beings. Knowing that we are forgiven. Without it we live in anxiety, shame, and guilt.
So, what exactly is forgiveness? To forgive you don’t have to suddenly become BFF’s with the person who has wronged you. Or if you’re married, let your cheater back under the sheets. Forgiveness isn’t tossing your pain out the window and saying that it is, “all better now”.
Rubin Khoddam from Psychology Today writes, “Forgiveness can mean you step into your present rather than anchoring in the past.” He also writes, “Forgiveness can mean that you let go.”
So now the tough questions…Are you living as your best self? Is the present day you, the result of yesterday’s circumstances? What I am trying to say is, do you need to find forgiveness?
Maybe it is time to move on. To let go and reimagine who you were meant to be should events have played out differently. Maybe you were handed crappy parents or cheated on by your spouse. Or maybe you have forgotten how to dream because every time you tried someone close to you took a sledge hammer and smashed your aspirations to a million pieces.
I did a quick web search to see what is at the top of people’s bucket list’s and found the blog, 12 Things People Regret Before They Die. The top 3 things were:
1. I wish I had spent more time with the people I love.
2. I wish I had worried less.
3. I wish I had forgiven more.
Sometimes, forgiveness isn’t saying “it’s ok” but rather changing the lock on the bolt because you finally realized that you can’t be your best self until you do. Forgiveness is realizing that you will never be able to accomplish your dreams until you remove the ‘nightmares’ that are holding you back. Sometimes forgiveness is loving someone from a distance that keeps you safe.
So here I was, with an old man living in a shelter, and he tells me that all he wants before he dies is forgiveness. Before I could even respond, the homeless woman sitting next to him answered for me. “Even if your family never forgives you,” She said placing her hand on his shoulder, “You can still be forgiven.”
She’s right you know. Even if people never give us forgiveness before we die, there’s still a Way to be forgiven.