Many people contact me about struggling with forgiveness.  They want to forgive but don’t know how; they find it difficult to offer authentic forgiveness and sometimes impossible.

We all have dark parts of our character we would like to extract but which are hard to change.  We don’t like to feel angry or harbor resentments.   

It’s part of our human nature.  All of us can become confused at times and can’t figure out what is the best course to take. 

Forgiveness isn’t about compromising our beliefs and values.  It’s about accepting that others who offend us have the right to make mistakes.  We can’t judge their motives; knowing motives is the responsibility of the person who commits the perceived offense, and a Higher Power.

Forgiveness is about our own thinking and allowances for others.  Not being able to forgive can build up our distress and compromise our health; severe long-term stress is known to suppress the competency of our immune systems and to change our genetic material, as documented in the Farm and Ranch Life article for the week of May 18, 2014. 

Facing truth is never as hurtful as dishonesty in the process of forgiveness, either for the givers or the recipients of forgiveness. 

Forgiveness reduces our distress level.  The third person in a musical group in which Marilyn and I were musicians, a guitarist named Pat, opened my eyes about forgiveness many years ago.  During a reconciliation service when the priest asked us to turn to our neighbor to request forgiveness, Pat looked me in the eye and said, “For what has already been forgiven, thank you.” 

Pat had done nothing to offend me.  But his statement changed my entire outlook at a time when I was angry with several graduate school professors for making me rewrite my master’s thesis 18 times to achieve their approval. 

I suddenly realized that my teachers were just doing their job, shaping me and challenging me to do my best.  I was the one with an attitude problem.  Over the next two years, and with a positive attitude, I sailed along to quickly complete my doctoral degree. 

Forgiving is not forgetting.  All of us are reluctant to forgive when we are hurt badly by persons who treat us unfairly, such as by bullying, discriminating against us or starting false rumors. 

We don’t want to undergo the same painful experience in the future.  It’s natural to keep our guard up after getting hurt. 

We should learn from our experiences.  If we don’t learn from our experiences, we are being dishonest with ourselves and setting ourselves up for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Forgiving is also about moving on with our lives, rather than holding grudges.  A farm woman I know was omitted from a will that divided her parents’ property equally with her only sibling, a younger brother who also was a farmer.

Their father died first.  When their father’s will was read, the two children learned it was their parents’ wishes that the family farm would remain in their mother’s name until she passed on; then each would inherit equal shares.

After the father’s death, their mother, who suffered dementia, granted Power of Attorney to Make Business Decisions to the son.  Without disclosing anything, he prevailed upon his mother to change her will so he would inherit all the property.

Some ten years later when their mother died, it was a complete surprise to his older sister to learn their mother had modified her will.  She filed a court suit to overturn the will, contending that her brother had unduly influenced their mother to change her will. 

When court proceedings were completed the judge honored the mother’s final will, much to everyone’s surprise.  The son had carefully taken steps to record his mother changing her will in a staged audio recording that made her seem of sound mind when she was compromised mentally.

The daughter lost her half of a five million dollar estate.  Upset at first, she and her family wrote me some 18 months later to say they were moving on. 

They had decided that continuing their resentment would only hurt them; this was an opportunity to improve their character.  They forgave their relative but would not allow him to ever be in a position to hurt them again. 

Forgiveness promotes peace.  Last week I was in Washington DC to attend a professional meeting. 

I felt the need to apologize to the president of the organization because I did not complete a chapter for a book she edited this spring.  I had struggled long and hard and I still don’t know why I couldn’t complete the task on time. 

All I had were lame excuses.  When I offered my apologies to the president, I was embarrassed. 

Touching my arm, she said, “You don’t have to apologize; we’ve all been there!” 

The only reply I could offer was, “For what already has been forgiven, thank you.”

Michael Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa clinical psychologist (and fly-fisherman) who lives on the farm he shares with his wife.  Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.