Releasing Ourselves from the Burden of Bitterness

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As I was getting ready to leave to go get another Covid test, which I finally managed to schedule after my exposure last week, the phone in my office rang. I smiled in spite of myself as the caller announced herself to be the very person who was responsible for my exposure. I felt a tightness in my chest as I battled internally with the decision of whether or not to go through with the unfriendly, short way I had decided to treat this person after the incident.

I’ve found myself in this predicament quite a number of times throughout my life. I am wronged by someone. I decide that I will no longer be happy and agreeable with them, but maintain a cool distance. In some ways I suppose I expect this to “teach them a lesson.” It is a personal consequence I like to deal out to people who have betrayed my trust or friendship. Usually when the time comes for me to enforce this inner law, however, I have already gotten over whatever the issue was that inspired it. Sometimes I stick to my guns, other times I forgive and forget. Although when I do choose to let my anger go, there is a pang of guilt and self-criticism. I feel weak or foolish for not “sticking up for myself” or something. Even when I know that my plan was likely immature and would be ineffective anyway.

I felt that twinge of unease today as I happily took this woman’s referral and was very pleasant to her on the phone in my usual way. There was something different about today though. My unease quickly dissipated and was replaced with a swelling sensation in my heart space and a nearly tearful self-pride. This feels much better than being spiteful, I thought to myself. So what if I don’t “teach her a lesson” by withholding my kind nature? It would do little to no harm to her, yet it would be a shadow over my soul for the indefinite period of our future work acquaintance. I was so happy and relieved to be freed from that burden of anger and revenge that I had been harboring for nearly a week now.

Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To forgive someone is not only a gift we give them, it is even more so a gift we give to ourselves. The gift of letting go. The gift of unbinding the tethers we have wrapped around our own heart. Sometimes my ego tries to snarl “they don’t deserve forgiveness.” And sometimes this is able to sway me back towards anger. But today it only caused me to reflect on all of the many time in which I had not felt worthy of the forgiveness given to me by others. I felt honored to be able to pay that kindness, that compassion, forward. In this way, forgiveness is also a means for us to repay those that have forgiven us.

Human nature is not so simple that it can be reduced to positive and negative reinforcement. When I feel I have earned rejection and scorn, but am instead offered understanding and unconditional love, I am not emboldened or spoiled by this generosity. I am healed by it instead. I am inspired to be better and prove myself worthy of it. I’d like to think that we all share this hunger for redemption after a mistake.

It is not foolish or weak to offer kindness and love in the face of indifference or hatred. It is one of the most beautiful things that we are capable of. It is with this thoughtful, compassionate, patient energy that the great men and women throughout time have turned the tides of history and earned their place in our collective conscious. We cannot allow ourselves to be concerned with the personal motivations or inner growth of others. We may hope for the best, but ultimately it is a waste and a shame to darken our own experience in an attempt to shape or control another’s.

Give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Give yourself the gift of letting go. Don’t concern yourself with what someone else may or may not deserve. This is not for us to determine, nor is it our burden to carry. We are not the grand arbiters of justice in the universe. I’ve let myself believe such matters were my “duty” for quite long enough. Now I see that truly my only duty in this life is to give back all of the love, kindness, acceptance, compassion, and understanding that I have received (with interest).

Forgiveness : TED Radio Hour : NPR

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