We got to the moon on Christmas Eve 1968, at the end of a poor year for this country. We had Vietnam. We had civil unrest. We had the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. But we went around the moon and saw the far side for the first time. A scriptwriter couldn’t have done a better job of raising people’s hope. Jim Lovell
Most of us would agree that 2017 generated more than its fair share of damaging events. They have impacted us all on the broadest societal and personal levels possible. This is certainly not to ignore the countless and miraculous acts of kindness and goodwill that mankind manifested. I cannot help recall the opening lines from Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
As we move to the finish line of 2017 tonight there is one thought, idea, concept that is my wish and prayer. It is captured in the word forgiveness.
Forgiveness is such a big idea that it is difficult to wrap our minds around. This definition published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley embraces my understanding well and in as few words as possible.
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Just as important as defining what forgiveness is, though, is understanding what forgiveness is not. Experts who study or teach forgiveness make clear that when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you or release them from legal accountability.
Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger. While there is some debate over whether true forgiveness requires positive feelings toward the offender, experts agree that it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life.
While early research focused on forgiveness of others by individuals, new areas of research are starting to examine the benefits of group forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
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May the Grace of God open our hearts and minds to this forgiveness that we can let go and leave behind what no longer serves us and move into the new year shining a light on every slightest shadow of darkness.