They say holding a grudge is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die. And we all know we aren’t benefited by hanging onto resentments and offenses. It makes us negative and miserable, hurts our health and paralyzes our spiritual growth. Meanwhile, not only are our offenders not brought to regret or contrition by our angst; they usually go happily on their way and sleep like babies while we lie awake stewing. Yet most of us have a bear of a time relinquishing that bag of rocks. Each one was thrown at us unfairly and, by George, we’re not going to forget it.
Some of that inclination to remember hurts is self preservation. If someone is consistently cruel to us, it’s human nature to remember it so we can avoid future injury. But many of us go far beyond making a mental note to steer clear of a meanie. Instead we lick our wounds, rehearse our slight to others in hopes of gaining sympathy, and imagine clever forms of retribution, or a least a piercing come-back we wish we’d thought of at the time. Each of these choices makes us feel empowered somewhat, or at least righteously right, but they keep us trapped in our pot of pity, simmering like an old piece of meat until we’re tough and tasteless.
And we know this. So how can we pull ourselves out of that stale hot water and move forward into a life of contentment and joy?
Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, sure, some folks can forgive, but they haven’t had x, y, and z done to them like I have. My wounds are huge!” Really? Bigger than Christ’s? Bigger than ten people I could point out who’ve had x, y, and z done to them TWICE and still forgave? Let’s not kid ourselves that our personal bag of woes outdoes everyone else’s. The first step is to realize that all of us get dumped on. It’s called Life. Get over it. Nobody goes through it with constant applause and good will. You will encounter thoughtless people who hurt you by accident. You will also encounter deliberately vicious people who hurt you intentionally. Christ has told us we must forgive, and he does not ask the impossible.
Is it easy? Is this article titled, “Ten Easy Ways to Forgive?” If you want to do something easy, go watch television or take a nap. It won’t advance your progress here on earth, but it will be easy.
On the other hand, if you want to grow and improve, to truly be happy and productive, to finally be rid of that bag of rocks, then roll up your sleeves. Here are ten ways to do it:
- Turn your anger to pity. How damaged must this person have been, by someone who should have loved them, for them to behave this way? What on earth happened to the happy-go-lucky little kid skipping off to kindergarten with a cute metal lunchbox and a head full of hopes for the future? We were all innocent once. What happened to this person to make them so bitter, so jealous, so mean spirited? There is a tragedy trapped inside this person’s heart, and it has nothing to do with you. Blame lies with someone who ruined them somewhere along the way. Think of how you might convince them that they really are a person of value, a person who can repent, a person who can love and be loved.
- Consider a revolutionary thought: Had you met under other circumstances, you might actually have been friends. Picture this person without the history you have together. Imagine meeting them at a party and talking about common interests. Or hiring them for a job. Or working with them on a common goal. Separate the thing they did from the person they are.
- Be grateful you’re the hurt and not the hurter. What a burden of guilt you’d have to bear if you had treated someone this way. What a relief it is to know you would never be so unkind. They will have to explain themselves one day, and feel wrenching remorse for their actions; you will not. Take solace in knowing that you are living with more integrity and compassion.
- This is a hard one, but it’s effective. Do something kind for them, anonymously. Think of several kind acts of service and watch what happens—not to them, but to you. It’s hard to resent someone we’re creating happy surprises for. Take the high road and speak well of them. Refuse to join conversations about this person’s faults. Pray for them (aren’t we told to pray for our enemies and those that despitefully use us?). Stop planning revenge and see what rushes in to fill that space.
- Remember that we are commanded to forgive. It’s not as if this is simply an option, or good advice for happier living. Take the task seriously, and refuse Satan’s whisperings that you have every right to continue in your anger. Determine that you will forgive them no matter what. A big part of this is to stop waiting for them to apologize. Too many of us are waiting for a heartfelt apology that will never come. And while we wait and ruminate, we rob ourselves of the joy of living and the freedom of letting go and forgiving those who have wronged us. I once was publicly snubbed by someone I thought was a friend and commented to my husband that I couldn’t believe she hadn’t called to apologize. He reminded me that someone who would do that in the first place, is not someone who would think to call and apologize. He was right—the list of rude “snubbers” and a list of considerate apologists will not match up at any point. So stop expecting them to be you. Just forgive.
- Consider the many things you need to be forgiven for—the things from the last week that you think about as you take the Sacrament, the major regrets, the bigger sins, the countless items you’re hoping God will forgive you for. And he’s told us we cannot expect him to forgive us if we don’t forgive our fellowman. Do you really want to jeopardize your own forgiveness by not forgiving others? It’s pretty risky behavior.
- Give them the benefit of the doubt. See them as God does, as his children who disappoint from time to time. If this were your actual child—picture yourself old enough for this to be the case—you could hope they see their way to better behavior, but you would still love them. They may even have repented of something you’re hanging onto, and deserve the chance to enact Christ’s atonement. Don’t decide they aren’t candidates for it; everyone is.
- Assume the best. Maybe this is the best behavior they can come up with. Maybe they weren’t raised to treat others kindly. Maybe they actually had a good reason for what they did (much easier to imagine with small slights than huge abuses).
- If you’ve been criticized, consider the painful possibility that they might be right. Were they rude and insensitive? Yes, but they may also have been giving you a correct assessment.
Take a hard look at what you were told, and see if you might need some improvement. It’s humbling, sometimes even humiliating, but when we learn and grow from experiences such as these, we come out the winner.
- Choose a life free from scorekeeping. If you’ve been a bit of a crybaby, stop it. Ban “wah, wah, wah” from your vocabulary and grow up. Choose to think about grander things than passing insults. Again, this does not apply in cases of severe abuse, but in cases where we nurse along grudges over petty offenses. Choose peace. Choose tranquility. Choose service to others. Choose to be known as a person who never whines or rehashes ancient history. Friends will flock to you. And, of course, some of them will inadvertently offend you, and then you’ll get to start all over. Okay, I’m kidding there. But you will become more pleasant to be around. And you will enjoy the company of your own spirit so much more. Best of all, you’ll be keeping Christ’s admonition to forgive, and you’ll finally taste the sweetness of the peace and freedom Christ promised us all.
Cruise with Joni and her husband, Bob, to Spain, Italy, and France May 12-19, 2012. Double occupancy starting at only $659.00 per person! See jonihilton.com for more information
Joni Hilton has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. Her latest book, “Funeral Potatoes– The Novel,” has just been scheduled for publication by Covenant Communications. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music & The Spoken Word,” many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California