December 9, 2013

Learning to forgive: Lessons from Nelson Mandela

We lost a great hero this week at the death of president Nelson Mandela on December 5th. He suffered in prison for 27 years for his role in trying to end apartheid in South Africa. I can only imagine how I would feel if I was unjustly arrested, and forced to spend decades behind bars. I can imagine coming out bitter, broken, and revengeful. But Nelson Mandela understood that bitterness would come at a great price. Talking about his release from prison, he said, "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."

It is sometimes hard to let go of the bitterness, anger, and scorn we feel for the people in our lives who have wounded us. Very often those people are close family or friends, and the wound is made more difficult when we have to regularly face those individuals. I think about one of my clients who was sexually abused as a child by a family friend. He has struggled in many areas of his life because of the abuse. He has every right to be angry. And yet, that anger has also been a cause of suffering for him.

If you are feeling that kind of consuming bitterness, you know what a prison it can be. To be free of the prison, it will require the courage to give up your right to be angry and bitter. I encourage you to do something radically different in the way you think about those who have caused you to feel bitter. I encourage you to wish them well, to pray for them, to hope for positive and real change in their lives. Little by little, you will feel the bitterness melt away in your heart.

This does not mean you have to spend time with those individuals, or have any contact with them. It is still a good idea to maintain good boundaries with people who are poisonous in your life. But, in your mind, and in your heart you can start the long walk down the path of freedom from anger and bitterness. 

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