Why forgiveness costs us so much...
Eye for eye
Tooth for tooth
The idea is that whatever you take from someone, they must take from you. The scale balances. This sense of justice is hardwired into us. We don't let murderers walk around free. We work to find them and prove their guilt and produce tons of TV detective shows about the process.
Our wills collide with other humans on an almost daily basis. People take actions that harm us which can be as small as zipping into the parking space we've been waiting for so that we are the ones having to continue to circle the lot, to big ones, like infidelity. Sometimes the intent is impersonal--like when someone who is angry at their boss, instead yells at us; and other times it is personal; like the person who maliciously spreads a rumor so that we won't get the promotion we dreamed of.
The actions we take to resolve these types of conflicts is called justice--and it doesn't need a whole system to be acted upon. We mete out justice all the time in our attitudes and actions towards people. We reprimand, snub, dress down, malign, hate, steal from and give the stank eye to people we believe deserve it based on the way we see the scales balancing.
That Lady Justice holds scales in all of our art and literature communicates just how much it is an economic concept.
So it occurs to me that if justice is an economic idea, then forgiveness must be too.
I believe it is why so often in the Lord's prayer the phrases are interchangeable "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" and "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."
Here is the point we often miss. There is no amount of vengeance that ever evens the scales for us because we can't quantify our own pain. How do you repay a lost childhood? Cruelty? Infidelity? When we forgive, we cancel the debt. We decide that we will not pursue damages. It's the same as loaning out 10,000--something we can't really afford--and having that person not pay us back. We absorb the cost.
But here is the weird part...in letting the account go, it is usually our self that we set free. It requires a lot of energy to be a debt collector. Much easier just to give things away.
Of course, we can only afford to give things away if we have depth of resources.
I've written recently about certain emotional commodities defying economics. When we give love away, we don't have less love. We have more. When we give kindness away, we don't have less kindness, we have more. The whole "if Johnny has four apples and gives Susie three..." breaks down. Forgiveness works the same way. For sure it costs us. We take on the debt of the pain. But there is an incredible freedom to it. No one holds us hostage by their actions. No one consumes our thoughts, our energy, or our hearts.
There is power to releasing debts just like there is power in cleaning out closets and releasing stuff. It opens us up for better stuff.
So, if you've been battling with forgiveness, do the heart work required to release the debt. It doesn't require anything from the one who offended you. This is solely work in yourself. Reconciliation is the work of the offender, but forgiveness is the work of the offended. (Not sure where I heard that, but I have experienced it to be true.)
We know this is possible, because we ourselves have been forgiven. (Cue Idina Menzel.)