“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” ~Lewis B. Smedes
Forgiveness is a liberating practice that not only enables the one who has wronged you to be free from the past, forgiving also liberates yourself equally as much and allows you to live more fully in the present, and on behalf of a better tomorrow.
Each of us has an ego, for the ego is simply one’s own sense of “self.” The entrapping nature of the ego interprets forgiveness and reconciliation as signs of weakness: as if, by forgiving one’s wrongdoing, we are signally that the actions or words that caused our pain and suffering are suddenly acceptable. But this is hardly the case.
The ego demands that we refuse forgiveness, for it provides us with an insurmountable amount of power and control over the one who has hurt us; by refusing to reconcile the conflict, we forever hold a condemning, inescapable guilt over his or her head. But, in the end, the lure of nonforgiveness that is caused by our individual egos — the side of us that wants to punish and never forgive the ones who have done wrong unto us — we come to realize that the only one who is truly punished, imprisoned and enslaved by our refuse to reconcile the pain is ourselves.
The Ego, and the Last Bullet in the Chamber
Our natural tendency is to interpret forgiveness as a sign of weakness. This is the ego within each of us — the sense of “self” that defines our conceptualization of “who we are” and that we each naturally have. The ego in each of us says, “By forgiving someone who has wronged us, we are displaying nothing but vulnerability: we open ourselves to a powerless state of being that invites the ones who have hurt us before to hurt us again. If we forgive, then how do we prove that we have learned our lessons, that we refuse to be hurt again?”
Indeed, the ego in each of us believes that by finding forgiveness, we are allowing the other person to continue his or her wrongdoing in spite of the fact that we “ought” to punish the one who has wronged us — as if, because we never deserved to feel the hurt and pain caused by that person, our refusal to forgive them should be the condemning punishment as a decisive and final form of justice. But forgiveness is anything but a concession, a sign of weakness, or an act of self-endangerment. Forgiveness is liberating.
Guilt: Attempting to Hold Another Hostage
Refusal to offer forgiveness is only a product of our ego, the side of us that feels shamed and embarrassed because we “allowed” another to hurt us. There is no defense of nonforgiveness, because by refusing to forgive and attempting to hold someone else hostage to the past, you are only holding yourself hostage.
The ego refuses to forgive because it wishes to hold another as a hostage. Refusal of reconciliation is its final line of defense: the last bullet in a chamber of attempts at redemption that have long since been expended. Forgiveness is the final bullet that remains: it is a bullet because forgiveness makes dead the feud, the resentment, the feelings of angst and refusal to move past that which has occurred.
Having long since and liberally expended the other bullets in its chamber, the ego resists the final shot for it wishes to maintain some form of guilt and control over the person who has hurt us. Whereas the other shots in the chamber were intended to hurt the person who has wronged us, that final bullet — forgiveness — serves no purpose but to end the conflict. The contention ceases to be after that last shot of forgiveness is fired, for, now, no bullets remain.
Attempting to hold another hostage by refusing to forgive only holds one’s self hostage: we refuse to allow ourselves to move on from that which has pained us. In doing so, we hang onto the past for the supposed sake of not allowing the pain to happen again to us in the future. In reality, we are only refusing to leave the past behind us, rather than living fully in the present and on behalf of the future.