Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How Forgiveness Promotes Hope

How Forgiveness Promotes Hope

Geoff W. Sutton

            Weddings, birthdays, reunions and summer holidays bring families together. Visions of BBQs, swimming, and fireworks dance in the heads of children. Not all fireworks decorate the sky. Some explode.  Amidst the laughter and joy, some fume about slights and barely veiled insults. Others recall serious hurts and pain. “It’s best to avoid the stress,” some say, as they vote with their feet and find comfort elsewhere. Reviewing past hurts keeps our energy and focus in the past. The past saps our ability to enjoy the present or make plans for the future. The pain of the past is like a storm cloud in front of the sunshine of hope.

            Forgiveness is a way of letting go of the past and promoting hope. I and my colleagues like Ev Worthington have conducted research with hundreds of people. When we measure forgiveness and hope we invariably find the more forgiving people are also the more hopeful ones. Why is forgiveness related to hope? I think it’s because forgiveness allows us to let go of the past. The mental state of holding a grudge keeps us mired in the hurts and offenses of days, weeks, or even years ago. Until we let go –stop reviewing the old hurts—we can’t develop hope. Hope is a forward looking orientation. Hope is an attitude of anticipation like the child jumping up and down anticipating the fun at some adventure park. Life’s an adventure when hope abounds. Forgiveness is one pathway to the future.

            There are many religious and secular books about how to forgive. A common sequence involves 4 steps. Forgiveness is as hard as ABCD.

  • A  Assess the harm.  Mostly, forgiveness works best when we fully assess the harm done rather than ignore it.
  • B Develop the Belief that you can forgive. Take steps to reduce the power of that hurt to keep popping up in our minds. Psychologists offer several ideas like writing about the event, considering other perspectives, and drawing on spiritual resources like prayer and meditation on divine forgiveness.
  • C Commit to forgive.  At some point we need to make a decision – commit to letting it go. Sometimes it helps to tell a trusted friend or write it down. 
  • D  Do something to remember.  No doubt life events will bring back an old memory but that’s time to take action and do something to remember, “I let that go.” If the offender is alive, perhaps a smile or good word is in order. 

Sometimes the past is overwhelming and professional counseling is the best approach.

Forgiveness promotes hope
 freeing us for the adventures of life.

Landmark for Peace Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park, Indianapolis, IN. Photo by Geoff W. Sutton

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