There is an old saying that holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Refusing to offer forgiveness to someone may seem like it is giving you the upper hand, but in fact it is harmful to your spiritual and emotional well-being.
Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, a regular Morning Air® contributor, recently shared why forgiveness is so essential in the Christian life, and the dangers that can come from refusing to forgive others.
Msgr. Rossetti pointed out that forgiveness is something that is often misunderstood. We think that to forgive means to bury all the hurt, put the past behind us, and move forward. But that’s not the case at all. If you’re feeling anger and hurt, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It might be a reasonable reaction to something harmful that has happened. But we can’t stop there. The first step toward forgiveness is processing those emotions in order to move beyond them
“Underneath all the anger that we feel because we’ve been hurt, we should try to get in touch with the pain,” Msgr. Rossetti advised. “And then grieve that we’ve been hurt in some way. Grieve that and then turn to the Lord and ask for forgiveness. So, start with getting in touch with that inner pain and grieving it, because forgiveness is really a process. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Sometimes people withhold forgiveness because they think that forgiving an action means condoning or downplaying it in some way. But Msgr. Rossetti explained that forgiveness does not mean accepting evil, but simply releasing it’s power over you.
“[Forgiving ] doesn’t mean we have to accept everything that happens,” he said. “And when bad things happen, we shouldn’t say it’s okay, because it is not okay. But there’s a difference between recognizing injustice and evil versus holding on to this sort of anger and resentment. There’s a difference there.”
“Forgiveness does not mean I have to have a warm feeling about something,” he continued. “You know, should we have a warm feeling about Adolf Hitler and what the Nazis did in a war? No. Should we have a warm feeling about what terrorists do or people who abuse children? No, we should we condemn such evils. But that anger we might feel, that sort of righteous anger if you will, does not mean we are unforgiving. We forgive these people, but we don’t accept their behavior.”
Waiting to feel forgiving about a situation or relationship is often a stumbling block that causes people to hold on to anger and resentment for years or decades. But you don’t have to wait to extend forgiveness until you feel like it. Forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a choice.
“It’s an act of the will,” Msgr. Rossetti explained. “It doesn’t mean I have a positive emotional feeling. It’s not an emotional feeling. It’s an act of the will, I choose to forgive. I choose to ask God to bless this person rather than cursing.”
“Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies.’ He didn’t say just kind of accept them. He said to love them. Why? Because this is who God is. God shines on the just and the unjust. So when we do that, we not only are more like God, but we’re also free.”
Listen to the full conversation with Msgr. Stephen Rossetti below: