On a recent Wednesday night at Good Shepherd Baptist, our conversation was about forgiveness.
Our current study posed the question: “Who are the people whom you’ve had difficulty forgiving and why?”
We discussed the emphasis Jesus put on forgiving others. In the prayer Jesus taught (usually known as The Lord’s Prayer), we ask God to “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Paul, who carried the message of Jesus into Europe, wrote, “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
The importance of forgiveness is in all great religions. In the Mishneh Torah of Judaism it says, “When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit … forgiveness is natural to the seed of Israel.” The Holy Qur’an teaches, “He who forgives, and is reconciled unto his enemy, shall receive his reward from Allah.” Both Buddhism and Hinduism teach the importance of forgiveness for karma. The great Hindu teacher Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless.” There are many other examples.
But no matter what religious teaching we may follow, if any, all of us know how difficult it can be to forgive someone who has hurt us. If we take seriously a faith or philosophy that teaches forgiveness as being important to spiritual and mental health, that can leave us in a quandary. We know that forgiveness is right, but how do we achieve it?
In our conversation at Good Shepherd, we remembered the old teaching that it is difficult to bear ill will for someone when you are actively praying for their good. We agreed that even when it takes a tremendous effort to wish someone well, it will slowly become easier and easier. The trick, it seems, is to make a regular habit of thinking specifically about the person one is trying to forgive and the things that would please them and make their life better. Whether one believes in the power of prayer, karma or just positive thinking, focusing on the good for someone else can draw the sting out of old hurts.
Or, you could simply follow the advice of Oscar Wilde: “Always forgive your enemies — nothing annoys them so much.”
Boyer is pastor of Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Lynnwood.