David Richo, in his book, The Five Things We Cannot Change, claims that we must accept certain realities. Among these are:
- All things change and end.
- Things do not always go according to plan.
- People are not loving and loyal all the time.
- Pain and suffering are a part of life.
- Life is not fair.
I will add some additional realities.
All of us will inevitably make some mistakes. We will sometimes hurt someone else, and also ourselves.
We have all experienced pain and disappointment because others have either intentionally or unintentionally hurt us. This might include parents, siblings, teachers, religious leaders, other family members, friends, acquaintances or strangers. We are hurt when we are abused, abandoned, neglected, ignored, shamed, shunned, ridiculed or marginalized.
It is usually easier for me to forgive unintentional hurts than intentional ones. I often ask myself, “Why would this person want to intentionally hurt me and make me feel so bad?”
Some people get pleasure out of causing the suffering of others. And, some people have no clue how their behavior affects others. They are oblivious to the pain and suffering they cause. But, people are what they are—nothing more, and nothing less.
I know people who use drugs to numb out their pain. They have been so hurt by others that they medicate themselves with chemicals. This can include marijuana, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, sugar and food. While under the influence of chemicals, some people do things that end up hurting themselves and others.
If we understand that being hurt and making mistakes are a part of life, then we can learn to forgive ourselves, others and life itself for being what it is. This means not expecting perfection, efficiency or complete acceptance.
Developing a forgiving attitude means being empathetic, patient and open to the imperfection of others and ourselves. If life gives us lemons, then we can make lemonade. However, we may not know how to do this.
David Richo believes there is a blessing in everything that happens to us—the good and the bad. The challenge is to discover the blessing and make it the central part of the learning experience. We can learn something from going through disappointments, losses and rejections.
How can we see the blessings within the suffering? Suffering can help us grow spiritually and understand others who suffer.
Several ambulance trips to the E.R. have taught me to appreciate my good health, take better care of myself and value the skills of the paramedics, nurses and doctors. I have more empathy for others who suffer from physical illnesses.
If we have any expectations at all, we will experience some disappointment. It is said in AA that expectations are premeditated resentments. So, life is imperfect, and so I am. I cannot expect anyone else to understand me all the time, or be perfect in their treatment of me.
The spiritual term is “Preventive Grace,” meaning grace given in advance of any situation. It is easier when we realize that our Higher Power has forgiven us in advance, and loves us anyway, despite our shortcomings.
Jesus said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do” many times in the Bible.
I am working on developing a forgiving attitude, It isn’t easy, and it is hard to forgive some people for what they have done. I know that we forgive for ourselves—so we are not tied up in old history and pain. Forgiveness does not mean we believe the other person was right, it simply is about freeing oneself from the power of past hurts.
Good luck on developing your own forgiving attitude.
Michael Obsatz, Ph.D., is an associate professor of sociology at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., and has taught there for 36 years. He is the author of “From Stalemate to Soulmate,” (Augsburg Fortress, 1998) and can be reached at www.angeresources.com.
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