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An essay donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys:

Healing, Mending, and Forgiveness:

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The Religion News Service website published an interesting essay by Jacob Lupfer about healing, mending and forgiveness. It is titled:

"We’ve forgotten how to mend. Faith traditions can help." 1

That article is in line with Stephen Asma’s book "Why We Need Religion". 2 Both assert that religion can help people deal with their emotions, help them heal, and help them deal with their angst.

All the major religions call for us, (to borrow a phrase from the Bible) to "forgive those who trespass against us." 3 This world is in need of a whole lot of mending, healing and forgiveness right now, from and for all sides.

There are two areas to this issue:

  • One involves helping those who have undergone some sort of tragedy to heal, mend and forgive.

  • The other involves healing, mending and forgiving those who have created the toxic "us versus them (those that aren’t like us)" culture that has torn and continues to tear our nation apart.

There is a third area: how does a society deal with terrorists and criminals? Do we try to rehabilitate them? Do we lock them up and throw away the key? These issues are complex and too big to cover here. I will consider here the first two issues.

I pointed out in the comments section for Lupfer’s essay that one problem I have seen was expressed by one of my neighbors. She said, I know I should forgive him (the man who murdered her sister) but I don’t know how.

Some religions and religious leaders tell us we are to forgive those who harm us but they don’t give people the practical tools they need to actually do this. Some religions and religious leaders add to the harm and the problems with their rhetoric and doctrines/dogma rather than enabling healing and forgiveness.

I tried to offer my neighbor some advice about where to get started. I noticed that when she told me her story that she was going through the endless cycle of "what ifs" and "if only I had ...". Survivors often blame themselves for not being there to save their loved one and beat themselves up with "If only I hadn’t stopped at the store I would have been there and kept this from happening."

I explained that the first step was to stop this cycle and to teach yourself to accept that what has happened has happened and it can’t be changed. I suggested that in her down moments when she starts going through the "what ifs" that she say something like , "stop it, no more, what has happened has happened, I can’t change anything." I pointed out she may have to tell herself this several times but over time the "what ifs" will stop. Then she needs to get busy doing something that will occupy her mind -- bake a batch of cookies, cook a fancy dinner, weed the garden, anything that requires concentration.

I also explained that forgiveness doesn’t mean that she has to forget or not seek justice in a court of law for her sister. I pointed out there is a difference between justice from a court of law and revenge or retribution.

Revenge and retribution are about personally "settling the score", "getting even", "duking it out man to man". Revenge and retribution are more about easing your own sense of impotence than they are about "seeking justice"! AND the anger and frustration that build inside of you harms you -- not the person your anger is aimed at.

It literally can cause, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, as well as heart problems, anxiety, and increased blood pressure. It can interfere with your work and housekeeping and childcare chores.

When the desire for retribution builds, when you can’t get your mind off of all the things you’d like to do to the person that harmed you, again tell yourself: stop it, no more. Then do something that will take your mind's focus away onto something else. Go for a walk around the block; hop on your exercise bike and peddle as fast as you can for a few minutes; go to your gym and punch a punching bag; do something to burn off the adrenaline that has been building inside of you.

All of those negative thoughts release chemicals into our body. Adrenalin is one; it can be addictive. If not used in action it can lead to the jitters and those other problems listed above.

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I asked her if she sees a doctor regularly and if she has told him/her about the problems she is having. I explained some people will need help from a medical doctor and they shouldn’t be ashamed to seek it. Some people will benefit from talking to a professional therapist. Again there is no shame in seeking help. Some tragedies are too great to handle without professional help.

Some people will find help in Buddhist meditation. However, this doesn’t work for everyone.

Some people find that keeping a journal of their thoughts, emotions, and health issues help.

Some people write poetry.

We are all different. We all have to find a system that is right for us.

During 2013, I wrote an essay "Pardon and forgiveness: the highest forms of justice." It is still appropriate today. The very idea of pardon and forgiveness makes some people mad. Some get mad at those who do try to pardon and forgive.

I have noticed that there are some people that seem to hold grudges against others who aren’t like them, because they are different: They are a homosexual, or belong to a different religion or have no religion, or are from a different country or ethnic background, or a different political party, etc. In these cases it is the person that holds the grudge that is in need of healing, mending and forgiveness.

People shouldn’t have to be forgiven for things that are beyond their control -- for simply being different.

But how do you go about forgiving the bigot, the racist, the misogynist, the homophobe, the white supremacist? Especially when they won’t even admit that they are bigoted or racist or homophobic or that they are the one with the problem?

These are the people that have contributed to (and some have created) this toxic "us versus them" culture.

  • First: you have to convince yourself that there is nothing wrong with you. You aren’t the one with the problem; they are.

  • Second: try to figure out what happened to them that brought them to this point. Try to figure out where they are coming from. What have they been taught that has caused them to have distorted views about you.

  • Third: set the record straight . Tell them they are wrong about you and others that are like you and this is why. Often their views are based on their ignorance, bias, prejudice, superstition. They have been fed lies and don’t acknowledge it or accept it. Stay away from the name calling, the character assassination words. Don’t allow yourself to become just like them, once you become that which you abhor you will have lost the war.

Then move on. If you can, avoid associating with them. If you can’t you may have to continue to stand up for yourself and others, time and time again.

Just remember they are the one with the problem, not you. You will grow in strength and they won’t. Strong people don’t need to hold grudges. They don’t seek retribution or vengeance. Strong people can forgive the one/s that have harmed them. Weak people can’t. Develop your skills and abilities, your self-assurance, self-control, self-discipline, self-motivation and you will heal and mend. You will become a strong and healthy person.

When you become strong and healthy, you can then help others heal and mend so that they too can become strong and healthy.

I ended that earlier essay I wrote with this quote from the I Ching:

"A deep understanding that knows how to pardon was considered the highest form of justice."

To which I added:

"I think it isn’t just the highest form of justice but the greatest wisdom."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Jacob Lupfer, "We’ve forgotten how to mend. Faith traditions can help," Religion News Service, 2018-OCT-19, at: https://religionnews.com/
  2. book cover Stephen Asma, "Why We Need Religion," Oxford University Press (2018) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  3. From the Lord's Prayer at Matthew 6:9-13. (RSV-2CE). See: https://en.wikipedia.org/

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Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphyreys
Originally posted on: 2018-OCT-19

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