Forgiveness: A tool for peace

This month’s Peace Challenge is: Marching Towards Forgiveness.

Several months ago I wrote about Experiencing Forgiveness. In it I touched on God’s forgiveness, forgiveness of self, and forgiving things and people in the past. All good and necessary aspects of forgiveness, which help achieve internal peace and increase peaceful interaction in our life relationships that have been less than peaceful.

Today, I want to touch on a radical concept of Future Forgiveness. The decision to forgive others AND ourselves, BEFORE something is done that requires forgiveness.

I shared a quote, which had been shared by my friend, Marc Alan Schelske,

Forgiveness is letting go of all hope for a better past

I would like to suggest that forgiveness can be taken a step further:

Future Forgiveness is letting go of all expectation for a perfect future.

It is the decision to treat others with unconditional love, compassion, and acceptance before they ever do or say the things that mess you up, set you back, let you down, and hurt your heart.

People aren’t perfect, not a single one of us. We all have sharp, pointy edges and rough surfaces. Occasionally we say and do things with malicious intent, usually in response to something that has been said or done that wounded us in one way or another; something we want revenge for so the other person can experience our pain.

The fact of the matter is, to one degree or another we’re all walking wounded. We are each damaged and deficient in one way or another. We all just do our very best, most of the time, to hide those things about us from others. Sometimes, we are in denial and are hiding them from ourselves. We do this in an effort to stay safe from being hurt anymore than we already have been. We also tend to try to minimize the damage our sharp points and rough edges do to those we love.

Since we know these things about ourselves, we also know them about others: people screw up.

I know a few people who set themselves up to be continually angry and in conflict because they know the faults and foibles of others and that things don’t happen the way we want or need them to, when we need them to.

This can be something that is beyond their ability to control because it’s such an ingrained way of thinking and reacting or because of mental health issues or personality disorders.

I’ve been struggling with this in my life recently.

Keith has a tendency to expect the worse, assume negative intent, decide ahead of time that when someone messes up in expected ways he’s going to get angry about it, and then rant and rave when his worst expectations.

These tendencies have been active and amplified recently because his previous co-driver quit suddenly and he has had to find a new co-driver and take the first one available, sight unseen. In addition, because of all the logistical issues in making the transition, his income has been reduced for several weeks. Factor in the fact the IRS has delayed processing his tax refund, for inexplicable and unknown reasons, he’s been in a significant amount of distress. When he’s distressed, anger is his to to reaction. Every little thing triggers it.

Nothing I can say or do can alter any of this. After 17 years of being in relationship with him, I have reached the point of understanding and accepting that this is beyond my ability to control.

As you can imagine, during these periods, conflict between us can escalate so fast and furious it makes my thoughts spin and my blood boil. If I let it, my woundedness will take the intensity and expression of his displeasure with everyone and everything personally. I have let my assurance that I know better how to be patient with, accept and forgive others to swirl around the recesses of my brain and write an internal monologue of exasperated frustration of snide and sarcastic criticisms. Times like these are when my internal critic attacks: not only me, but him as well.

The thing is, there is more to him than all of that. Those things are overt and quite challenging to see past. They are off-putting to emotionally safe and sane individuals. They are triggering for those who’ve lived lives rife with suppressed or overt anger and intense negative emotional responses. So, it’s really difficult for many people to want to see past the layers of external negatives and seek the positives.

They are there and the more I am able to shift my focus from those negatives and choose to notice the positives, the more those positives begin to shine.

However, in order to do this, I have had to decide that whenever he acts out in his negative ways, I am going to forgive him. I am going to take care of my emotions and do the things that keep me safe emotionally and psychologically. That includes recognizing that his emotional and behavioral responses have little to do with who I am, what I’m about, or my worth and value. His behavior and actions are his and he’s on his journey the same as I am on mine.

Choosing to forgive in advance of the offense doesn’t make the offense less hurtful to experience, neither does it mean that unacceptable behavior is suffered through silently and just “taken” without protest. It means that you are not going to allow the other person’s sharp points and rough edges to turn you into a worse version of yourself. Instead you are going to choose to allow their points and edges to help smooth out your own rough edges and sharp points. It means that instead of trying to wound as I have been wounded, I’m going to use my pain to think empathetically and respond compassionately, take as many deep breaths as it takes, and choose a course of action that will lift us both up.

It takes time, effort, determination, commitment, and the support of others to choose forgiveness in advance, but it pays off. I know, because my life and relationships are improving because of it.