One of the biggest hurdles we face in our spiritual journey is dealing with people that hurt us. A painful experience presents several considerable challenges: handling the pain, learning from the situation, and finding a way to move on, all of which can take a lifetime to achieve. But one of the most difficult challenges is learning to find forgiveness.
"Finding forgiveness has the power to reveal incredible Light."
We know that, spiritually, we are supposed to love all people, even our enemies, but that’s so much easier said than done. We often fear that by forgiving someone who has done wrong by us, we are opening ourselves up to be hurt again by them. We fear that we are showing weakness by letting them off the hook too easily. But finding forgiveness for someone is actually a huge act of bravery and strength, one that has the power to reveal incredible Light.
When we don’t let go of our past traumas, they continue to affect us and the people around us, even when we don’t intend them to. We use being hurt in the past as an excuse to hurt people in the present. For example, if a past romantic partner has cheated on us, we may become suspicious, jealous, and untrusting of our current partner, which can put a tremendous strain on a relationship. We carry the baggage of our past experiences around with us because we have not really moved on.
So, how do we learn to find forgiveness for people who have hurt us?
1. Remember that there is Light in every situation.
Every blessing and every hardship we face comes from the Creator. When someone hurts us or we face adversity, the Light is still there, though it is concealed. Even though we may not be able to understand why, the Creator has sent this person into our lives and put us in this situation for a reason.
We have an incredible opportunity to reveal this concealed Light through the power of forgiveness. This doesn’t mean leaving yourself open to being hurt again. In fact, you may find it necessary to distance yourself from the individual. But forgiveness does help us build a stronger relationship with the Creator. It releases us from the pain inflicted while opening us up to the possibility of learning whatever we can from the situation.
2. Find the life lessons that come from the situation.
It is difficult to feel like anything good can come from our pain when we are suffering, but it’s important to take a step back, take a deep breath, and meditate on what we could learn from our experience. How would we respond if the Creator were to come to us and ask, “Why do you think I put this in your path?”
We usually can look back on mistakes and challenges in our past to see how they have made us who we are today, yet still struggle to see that what we are currently going through is leading us to who we will become tomorrow. If we believe that our experiences are meant to mold us into better people, then there must be some life lesson from the situation.
3. Understand that forgiveness is an opportunity to grow.
Think of all the challenges in your life as an obstacle course that has been designed just for you. There’s a rock wall, monkey bars, a rope to climb, and other hurdles. It’s a difficult course, but you know that the more you work at it, the stronger you become.
"Forgiveness is about reclaiming our power."
Life’s challenges are like a spiritual obstacle course. It may present us with obstacles that seem impossible at first, but they each make us spiritually stronger. The people who hurt us are just some of life’s hurdles. We don’t get angry at the rock wall or the monkey bars, because we know that we can and will overcome them and come out stronger on the other side. With practice, we can learn to look at people who have hurt us the same way.
4. Know that forgiveness is taking back your power.
When we hold a grudge against someone, we give them power over us. We may think we are punishing them by being angry with them, but we are really letting them control our emotions. If we were truly independent of their influence, we would not feel the weight of anger, hurt, or sadness.
When we choose not to forgive, we choose to position ourselves as the victim of the situation. And it makes sense that we would look at ourselves as the victim. They did something horrible to us and we were innocent, right? This may be true, but it does not mean that we need to submit to the victim mentality. We can’t control or change what has happened to us, but we can reclaim our power by not allowing that person to be the source of our energy. The only source is the Light of the Creator.
When we take responsibility for our suffering and realize that we can choose to move on, we experience freedom from victimhood. It does not mean that what the other person did was right, and it does not mean that it doesn’t hurt. It just means that we choose not to let that pain break us. We choose to use the experience to transform into better versions of ourselves.
In this way, we can see that forgiveness is not about weakness. It is about reclaiming our power and taking responsibility for our happiness.
5. Wish those who have done wrong by you well.
Picture the people who have hurt you standing before you, asking for you to forgive them. Wish them well and hope that they find transformation in their own lives. You don’t need to be their best friend again or even keep in contact with them. Some people are not meant to stay in our lives, especially when they continually hurt us, and that is ok. If we forgive them, we can truly let them go and not carry the weight of the pain around with us.
The Creator sees us at our worst moments, and yet He forgives us and continues to give His love unconditionally. To the extent that we ourselves can take on this quality, we draw closer to unity with the Creator.
When we practice forgiveness, learn from the experience, and push ourselves to grow, we make progress toward the ultimate goal of our existence in the world.
Our teacher, Rav Berg, taught that simply by meditating upon this passage from the Zohar, we can awaken the ability to forgive in our hearts:
In all my days, I forgave and made peace with any man who did evil by me. If I could not make peace with him, I did not sleep on my bed before forgiving him and all those who grieved me. Thus, I did not harbor hatred all that day for the harm anyone did me. Moreover, from that day on, I tried to do kindness by them.