Forgiveness is tough—especially for someone like me who has always had trouble expressing his feelings. But forgiveness, I’ve discovered, is a wonderfully liberating and healing act. It frees you to move on, to advance to new stages in your life and career. In short, it is essential for personal growth and leadership, and yet, sadly, it is often absent from our workplaces and our homes.
I’ve been thinking about forgiveness lately because in a few weeks I will be delivering a series of talks on the subject to a group of 42 inmates at Greensville Correctional Center. As noted in a previous post, I serve on a prison ministry team called Kairos. Twice a year, we conduct a three-and-a-half-day retreat at Greensville that is without a doubt the most powerful Christian action program I have ever seen.
At the heart of the experience is breaking down emotional walls and teaching the awesome healing power of forgiveness. That’s a message that, as you might imagine, resonates with a prison population. We’re talking about men who may feel tremendous guilt, who have many doubts and emotions bottled up inside and have never been given a means of release, much less the hope of forgiveness.
One impediment to my own personal growth has been resentment. I have consciously been working on eliminating this bitter and destructive emotion for about five years now. It hasn’t been easy, but I have come to realize that it is fully necessary if I am to move forward and become a more loving person.
Resentment is a kind of slow-burning anger that builds up inside and never gets released in a healthy way. I think it is especially prevalent among men because we are taught from a young age not to show our emotions.
It’s an insidious thing, that feeling that you’ve been wronged and it’s all someone else’s fault. It results in the pushing away of the very people you need to make amends with. It’s definitely a “silent killer” of relationships.
I find that money issues and resentment go hand-in-hand, as well as workplace anxieties like not getting a promotion. And then there are the big ones: control and power. It’s a slippery slope, and pretty soon you’re convinced that the other person is to blame for all your problems.
Of course, the person you resent is usually unaware that you harbor such ill feelings. And that is why resentment is so corrosive. You’re only hurting yourself. You have to let it go, and you have to forgive the other person. You also have to look in the mirror and forgive that guy staring back at you.
You can’t control what other people do, but you can—with practice—control how you respond. When you begin to examine and express your emotions, and learn to forgive, resentment will cease to have control over your life.
All of this is easier said than done. Christians have the perfect example of how to do it from a guy who lived about 2,000 years ago. He taught us to serve someone greater than ourselves, and that tends to put everything into perspective pretty quickly.
Regardless of your religious views, I believe, like the Bob Dylan song says, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Whenever I feel those old feelings of resentment coming back, I try to think about whom I’m serving. If the word “me” is in the equation, I know I need an attitude adjustment.