The High Holidays are right around the corner. We’re at the tail end of the month of Elul, prime time for introspection and growth. It’s a time when we review the events of the past year, taking stock of what we’re doing right, what we could be doing better, and what we should stop doing. We think about things which we’ve done to people, and things people have done to us.
It’s traditional to ask forgiveness of those we’ve wronged in this past year, but forgiveness is more than just asking. It’s a two-way street. On the flip side of requesting it, there’s giving it. They can both be daunting to accomplish, but are both immensely rewarding.
Asking for It.
I don’t know about you, but most of the time I prefer to gloss over the things I do poorly and just focus on how awesome I think I am. It may be a good strategy for raising my self-esteem, but it’s not going to help me with self-improvement. It’s not easy to face the side of myself that I like to pretend doesn’t exist, the times when someone depended on me and I flaked, or when I relayed that bit of information I probably should have kept to myself, or when I ate that last bit of cake instead of saving it for my husband when I knew he would’ve wanted it. Even though I don’t like to recall these events, it’s good to do so. Kind of like spring cleaning for the soul. But all that thinking about mistakes I’ve made comes with a reminder of the people who I have inconvenienced or hurt by those mistakes. And then I want to make it right.
Since it’s such a fortuitous time for asking forgiveness, I compiled a list of people to whom I owe an apology. In theory, it’s great. In practice, though, I’m stymied. Not only does this require me facing up to mistakes I’ve made, but I have to actually admit it to someone else! Mortifying doesn’t quite cover it. It doesn’t help that I’m really pretty good at procrastinating. However, I know that once I dial those numbers, in addition to feeling much better, I will also be on better spiritual ground.
How to Do It.
Ask if it’s a good time. If it’s the middle of dinner or bedtime, it’s better to call again.
Skip the small talk. If I start with the shmoozing, I’m just going to have a harder time getting to the apology. Better to be up front about the reason I’m calling.
Keep it simple. Skip the lengthy explanation, rather, I’ll identify what I’m apologizing for, and ask for forgiveness. i.e., “I’m sorry that I said I would do x and then I didn’t. Please forgive me for the inconvenience I caused you.”
No qualifiers. Saying, “I’m sorry, but it was just…” or “I’m sorry, but if you hadn’t…” Those aren’t apologies.
Be understanding. An apology might dredge up uncomfortable feelings for the recipient. I’m prepared for any awkwardness that may ensue.
Granting forgiveness is a process. Part of the challenge of forgiving is the forgetting. I have to battle my excellent memory for insults. It’s astonishing that even though I can’t always remember where I put my sunglasses, I haven’t forgotten how it felt to be snubbed in the lunchroom of a new school (I’ve obviously forgiven those girls). I can also still remember various other major and minor slights that occurred over the past twenty or so years. Why these things need to take up space in my brain is beyond me. I’d much rather use that brain space for something productive, like remembering how many cups are in a gallon or something. Yet, there those memories are. Just waiting to remind me why I should still be mad.
When I feel I’ve been slighted, the incident can take up a permanent loop in my mind. It’s like the repeat button got stuck or something. And so, in minute detail, I rehash the event until it’s etched in my mind. As you can imagine, this is not exactly conducive to granting forgiveness. No, it’s much more conducive to bearing a grudge. Hmmm.
So, I work on trying to get over the pain, to stop dwelling on it and move on. It’s been said and done, and the best thing is to accept it and get over it. The point of granting forgiveness isn’t necessarily to mend a relationship, but to free myself from the grudge, since I don’t want to walk around with that baggage, that negativity. Even if I know 100% that I’m in the right, at the end of the day, I want to be able to focus on all the good in my life instead of the one thing which is bugging me. Holding onto that grudge is like staying in bed all day because I have a splinter. It doesn’t make much sense.
Mantras for Moving On
It was meant to happen - This situation isn’t a coincidence. I may not like it, but there’s something in it that I need to learn. Looking for the purpose in an unpleasant situation helps diminish the frustration.
Focus on the positive - Even within a bad situation there can be positive aspects, so I try to remember those. If nothing else, it can be an opportunity to grow.
Try to be empathetic - Was the person who hurt me going through a difficult patch? Is there some mitigating circumstance that could help explain their actions? Even if I never understand why something happened, it can help to remember that the culprit is also a human, not just a culprit.
How can I tell when I’ve really forgiven someone? Because it’s a process, there’s not usually a clearcut moment where forgiveness has been achieved. In the past, I’ve been sure I had forgiven and then – Bam! I found myself aggravated and upset when reminded of the incident, and I had to start the process all over again. Closure is a gradual decline in the negative feelings until one day, I realize that I’m not bothered anymore. It’s a great feeling.
So, good luck with getting and giving forgiveness in this final stretch before the High Holidays. May you all have a sweet new year!
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