Forgiveness: The Key to Inner Peace

Forgiveness: The Key to Inner Peace

People who come see me almost always have had a very difficult childhood. The issues run from being ignored, emotional abuse, "mild" physical abuse, physical abuse which has left physical scars 40 years later, to sexual abuse.

As we work through the various issues, we eventually come to the need to let go and forgive.

Why is forgiveness the key to inner peace?

Being angry at someone saps your energy. When you hold onto past wounds, memories of that person can enter your mind at unexpected times.

You forgive so that the person and incident are no longer a negative, energy sapping part of your life. When you forgive you will be able to look back upon the event or see the person who harmed you without feelings rancor.

Despite forgiveness being a part of my training, it is not something I do well.

I had (have) a difficult time with the "turn the other cheek," "give them your cloak if they demand your coat," and "if they demand you walk one mile, walk another" found in the Christian scriptures. (Keep reading even if you are not Christian. The interpretation may mean something to you, also.) To me I would just be giving license to someone abusing me.

Then I read Matthew, Dennis and Sheila Fabricant Linn's book Don't Forgive too Soon. They included a scripture scholar's explanation of the above sayings. (Not everyone agrees with this scholar's interpretation.) I want to share these with you in case it helps you as it helped me.

First get into the culture the Christian Scriptures were written. This is taking place in the middle East, where there is so much unrest today, just like there was when Jesus lived there. There was slavery and a definite socio-economic caste system. The Roman were occupying the land. Let's examine "turn the other cheek". In the middle East you did the "unclean" necessities of life with your left hand (hygiene needs). You never ever touched anyone with your left hand. It was, and still is in some cultures, a hard and fast taboo.

If you were to hit someone you hit them with your right hand. There was protocol in this also. You only hit equals with your fist. You slapped inferiors (slaves, servants). When someone slapped your face he was letting you know you were an inferior. Your face would turn with the force of the blow. If you "turned the other cheek" the individual, if he wanted to hit you again, would be forced to hit you with his fist thus declaring that you were an equal.

Now examine "walk another mile" The Roman soldiers could force someone to carry something for them for one mile. They were absolutely forbidden to force anyone to carry something more than that. If they did they would be severely disciplined by their superiors. By "walking another mile" you would have the soldiers begging you to stop, to put "it" down.

"If they demand your coat, give them your cloak, also" is also interesting. You have to go back to the original language and, again, the culture of the day to understand this.

The word for cloak is actually what we would call undergarments. Just as we would be naked if we removed our undergarments, so, also would the person be who removed their cloak.

What you have to understand is that there was no shame in being naked. There was great shame in looking upon someone's nakedness. (Some of you may recall the shame brought upon Noah's son for looking upon Noah in his nakedness.) When you give the person your cloak you have just made yourself naked, which is not shameful, but the other person sees your nakedness, which is shameful.

In each one of these interpretations you have done something to show the oppressor you are not to be oppressed. You are protecting yourself and declaring your dignity.

We are told by scripture, modern psychology and metaphysical philosophy that forgiveness is crucial to our spiritual and mental health. It does not, however, mean that we keep ourselves in a place of continued abuse. That would be abusive to us and to the other person.

We have a right and obligation to protect ourselves. We can do it in such a way as to demonstrate to the other person the inequity in what s/he has done.

by Cathy Chapman, PhD -

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