More Not Less, Forgiveness

My pastor told a story during his sermon that I thought was incredibly relevant for our world today.

As the story goes, Thomas Edison finished a prototype of the lightbulb and allowed a boy to carry it to the gallery to be inspected by the public. As the boy hurried to deliver the new invention to an anxious crowd, he accidentally dropped the lightbulb and watched in horror as it shattered into pieces.

Although it took the team close to 24 hours to assemble a new bulb, what Edison did next is truly astounding. He called on the same boy again to transport the bulb to the gallery.

Can you imagine how the course of that young man’s life was changed as a result of the grace extended by Edison? Edison had every right to be angry with the boy.

Yet, Edison gave him a second chance.

The power of forgiveness in this story is something that is sorely missing in our culture.  We live in a world where extending grace is seen as weakness by many who will stop at nothing to make sure that others get exactly what they deserve:  our judgment.

Second chances are frowned upon. Castigating and rebuking those who we feel have wronged us is the norm.

If you look at the psychological research on the subject, approaching life with a posture of forgiveness is by far the healthiest way to live.

Individuals who forgive freely are more likely to report better health habits and decreased depression, anxiety and anger levels.

Relationally, those who forgive tend to have more satisfied relationships and even parent better than those that carry a grudge.

Physiologically, forgiveness helps people fight off diseases and infections better and decreases stress levels.

Together, these results highlight the importance of forgiveness — not for the other person, but for you.

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That’s the powerful part about forgiveness — the most significant benefit is seen by the person who is doing the forgiving, not by the person who is getting the second chance.

In the Edison story, the boy was given a second chance and probably gained incredible confidence as a result. But if we believe the research, Edison himself was healthier for having allowed himself to be the kind of person that could give a second chance.

So if you want to be someone who reaps the healthy benefits of giving second chances, try these strategies:

Feel the emotion of the situation

Part of what sometimes keeps people stuck in a pattern of unforgiveness is an unwillingness to experience the negative emotions associated with hurt feelings.

Many times we seek to distance ourselves from feeling the vulnerability of the hurt we are experiencing and we cover it up with emotions that make us feel more empowered and in control.

Essentially, we choose anger over hurt because it feels more powerful, like we can do something to control the situation.

Ironically, in order to truly forgive someone we must first walk through the anger and underlying hurt and allow ourselves to feel those negative emotions.

Oftentimes I have my clients write a letter to the offender and articulate how and why they feel wronged. Putting words to the offense usually allows them to process the negative emotion and primes the pump for empathy for the people that have hurt them.

If you want to be the kind of person that gives second chances, let yourself feel the emotion of the situation.

Look at the world differently

Many times, we have a tendency to see others as intentional in their actions toward us.

We feel as if the people who have offended us have proactively set out to discount our feelings, disparage us or act in disrespectful or careless ways.

Forgiveness seeks first to understand the plight of the people who have offended us and to develop a more balanced view of negative events.

The truth is, most people are not acting against us, but are rather reacting to their own issues, hurts and problems.

Hurt people hurt people.

Remember that as you attempt to extend grace to others and give them a second chance.

Surrender your right to punish the offender

If I go to Starbucks and order a coffee, I pay the cashier he or she gives me my coffee.

That’s how it works every time because I am in a transactional relationship with my barista.

During that transaction, I get exactly what I deserve: nothing more and nothing less.

If I paid and didn’t get my coffee, I would be upset because I’m entitled to it, right?

Many times, we approach our forgiveness in a transactional way.  We desire to give people what they deserve and to punish them with our anger for their transgressions.

Forgiving people that have hurt us will be contingent on our ability to surrender our right to give people what they deserve, and instead choose to give people grace and mercy.

Isn’t that exactly what Edison did with the boy who dropped his lightbulb? Edison chose to extend grace and mercy, even after he and his team spent 24 hours repairing the boy’s mistake.

I’m sure that there are moments when objectively, by all accounts, you have every right to be angry and hurt. Moments where you have every right to give people exactly what they deserve.

But if we are ever going to truly forgive people and turn the tide of our culture toward grace and mercy, we must start by giving those people that have hurt us a second chance.

Dr. Mike Ronsisvalle is a Licensed Psychologist and the President of Florida Counseling Centers, a psychological services agency that provides counseling to clients of all ages and addictions treatment to adolescents and adults.  You can find him on the web at Floridacounselingcenters.com. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LessStressedLife/ or Twitter: https://twitter.com/MikeRonsisvalle

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