The Healing Power of Forgiveness


On the eve of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur–the holiest day in the Jewish year–the theme of forgiveness is on my mind. The holiday is also known as the Day of Atonement; it is, according to tradition, the day in which our transgressions are forgiven by God.

It is actually a more complicated matter. Judaism teaches that the rituals of Yom Kippur are just the final step in the process of true repentance. If we have committed a sin against God (by not following the ritual laws in the Torah) we are hopefully forgiven on this day through fasting and prayer. If we have offended another person, forgiveness doesn’t happen until we have confessed the sin, tried to make it right with the other person, and vowed to not repeat the offense.

It feels great to be forgiven. It is a central part of many religions. Of course, forgiving others is a little more difficult. Over the years, there are people or even institutions who have hurt us (and continue to do so); how do we find a way to forgive them?

I blogged about this back in June. Here is the link:

I was inspired by the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand to seek ways to forgive others who have offended/hurt me. With the assistance of a professional who helped me sort through the issues and the process, I discovered that it was actually not as hard as I thought it would be to forgive. I accepted that those who had hurt me were doing what they thought best (even if the outcome for me was difficult) and that their actions gave me opportunities that would not have existed otherwise.

What was most difficult was learning to forgive myself. I have made mistakes and that is OK. I also know that I expect an awful lot from myself; my parents set very high standard for my siblings and me. I know that I don’t need to be perfect and I should accept that I was also doing what I thought best (even if the outcome was difficult for me and others close to me).

Learning to forgive has been a healing process. The churn in my brain of anger and resentment has quieted down; I do not replay scenarios over and over in my head. When the individuals involved come to mind, my response to myself is “oh well.” I have become a non-anxious observer of past events in my life.

I have not reached nirvana. I am not perfect. There are people out there who annoy me and even disrespect me (my perceptions, of course), but I am trying to practice compassion during this difficult time. Even so, I feel mentally healthier. I am not holding the grudges. I am letting things slide…or I just left off steam and then drop it. My overall attitude has improved and I feel like I am able to pivot more adeptly to constructive attitudes and actions.

Forgiveness should not be restricted to once a year. It should be an ongoing process. It is good for our health. Need help with this? There are professionals out there who can guide us.

Wishing everyone who observes Yom Kippur a meaningful fast, a HEALTHY year, and the gift of forgiving and being forgiven.

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