Forgive – for your own sake
Jeanette Sapire experienced the healing power of forgiveness first-hand. “I had a particularly bad relationship with my mother from my childhood onwards,” she says. “Many years went by, and I was unable to resolve this relationship. It came down to me not being able to be in her company anymore.”
Yet, her mother’s illness last year sparked something in Sapire, and she knew it was time to let go of the resentment she’d been harbouring. “My mom became very sick last year, and passed away last November,” says Sapire. “I was able to be at her bedside at the time. She was unconscious, but I was able to tell her that I loved her, and that I forgave her.”
Asked how she reached forgiveness, Sapire says it came down to seeing her mother in such a vulnerable state. “When I saw my mom suffering, I felt such compassion for her,” she says. “I felt that no matter what she did to me, she still didn’t deserve to suffer like that. I saw her as a human being at that moment, and realised that maybe she hadn’t known what she’d done. I think that because she wasn’t awake it was easy to forgive her because there would be no backlash from her. I also realised that with her being on the edge of life, she may have felt guilty about what she’d done, and she may have really needed my forgiveness.”
Sapire says that forgiving her mother gave her a massive sense of relief. “Although she was unconscious, she reached for my hand and squeezed it as I spoke to her. The feeling of happiness that I experienced was beyond description. It was as if a weight had been lifted off me.”
Indeed, when you harbour resentment, you’re often the one who suffers the most, which explains why forgiveness is so powerful. “Forgiveness ultimately creates a feeling of freedom and calm,” says Lurie. “We’re no longer bogged down by the weight of feeling wronged. We don’t have to approve of what happened, but we can accept it and give ourselves permission to move forward. It also allows us to re-evaluate what’s important to us.”
There’s no better time for re-evaluation than as we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As we ask G-d to forgive us for our transgressions for the past year, it follows that we reflect on forgiving those who have wronged us. “We’re asking Hashem to forgive us for all of our mistakes and sins,” says More To Life coach and mentor Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler. “If we’re able to do that for at least one person in our lives, it opens the way for Hashem to say, ‘Yes, the way you behave to others is how I will behave towards you.’”
Yet, Hendler acknowledges the immense difficulty of truly forgiving others. “It’s the most spiritual, G-dly thing to do, yet there’s not much that’s harder.” Together with Rebbetzin Joanne Joffe, Hendler runs forgiveness workshops based on the teachings of More To Life, an organisation offering experiential tools and practices to help people access their full potential.
Hendler explains the practical process that one needs to go through to reach a point of meaningful forgiveness. Defining resentment as ill will held over time towards someone for what appears to be a good reason, Hendler suggests first examining why we hold onto the resentment. “What’s it doing for us? What benefits do we get out of holding resentment?” she asks. “What are the payoffs?” Moral superiority, and being the centre of attention as we tell our sad stories and get a sense of self-justification are some possible payoffs.
Then, look at the costs of holding onto resentment. It has an impact on every area of life, says Hendler. “It costs me the relationship with that person, as well as my physical and emotional health. I can’t sleep, I have no energy, and I’m so consumed by my resentment that I can’t be fully present. It costs me spiritually as I feel distanced from Hashem when I’m engaged in this poisonous thinking and behaviour.”
We realise that the supposed payoffs are actually costs. “Only when you feel sick to your core, only when the cost is too high will you be ready to let go,” says Hendler. Regardless of how big, small, or justified our resentments are, the price we pay in terms of our own soul is the same. Yet, letting go of resentment is hard. “People grow to like their resentments – they’re there for very good reason.”
“Many of us may make forgiveness contingent on the other person apologising,” says Lurie. “In reality, this doesn’t always happen.” We need to get into a space in which we can forgive simply for our own well-being.
Forgiveness isn’t condoning the other’s actions or turning the other cheek, says Hendler. “It’s not about the other person. It’s totally focused on ourselves. Often while we’re holding onto the resentment and stewing in it, the other person doesn’t even know. Forgiveness is an active process we go through for ourselves.”
Through the process, you do a form of teshuvah, confessing your damaging behaviour. “You conjure the person up in your mind and look them in the eye,” says Hendler. “Then, you confess the full extent of your resentment to them. You say, “I’ve been resenting you for … I accept responsibility for how I’ve judged you, how I’ve behaved towards you, and what I’ve been resenting you for.”
Then you ask for and offer forgiveness to the person you’ve conjured up. Even though the other person has done you wrong, you need to ask them for forgiveness for your behaviour and the resentment you’ve held onto. “You make an active choice to let go. It’s not that you’re saying what they did is ok, it’s never ok, but for your own sake, for your peace, for your soul, you need to drop it. It comes from the realisation that you’re hurting yourself, and you’re not willing to let your beautiful life be compromised in this way.
“The person who hurt you is simply the messenger, a challenge from G-d,” says Hendler. “He has sent us an opportunity for growth and healing. Our job is to act in a way that reflects our best self.
“The final step of the process is to commit to a new action or intention.” You can go for coffee and talk out your issues with the person. Or you may choose to end a toxic relationship, but let go of your ill will towards the person. “You honour your healthy choice for yourself, and act from a place of truth.”