Like many essential life skills, the art of forgiveness starts on the playground.

“That wasn’t nice to take her turn. Say you’re sorry.”

It begins like brushing teeth, something we were told we must do. A habit we must develop even though we couldn’t comprehend the consequence of a cavity.

Like you, I’ve learned quite a bit about the consequences of not forgiving. Unforgiveness is like a cavity, at first, bitterness does unseen damage.

Forgiveness is not a very sexy topic. When I tell people about my portraits, they are often surprised to find that each story is rooted in overcoming and forgiveness. It’s not something others get excited about. Forgiveness that is.

And I get it… forgiveness is messy and painful. I’ve been there. 

By acknowledging the wrong that has been done to me and choosing to forgive is not always easy or straightforward. It can be emotionally exhausting and not at all how we want to spend our free time.

But I want to tell you, it’s worth it. It’s uncomfortable, sure. But aren’t so many of the actions that nourish our soul and give our lives meaning? They take effort on our part.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Nelson Mandela

My Journey of Forgiveness

Over the years, I have come up against numerous circumstances and people who have stirred up all kinds of anger and resentment. In the process, I realized there were a lot (real and imagined) of my life areas where I needed to forgive.

• I had to forgive my parents for the unintended consequences of their mistakes.

• I had to forgive an old neighbor who was challenging to live with.

• I had to forgive the driver who caused a car accident I was in.

• I had to forgive people at my church who had not extended support and encouragement during times of transition.

• I had to forgive my siblings for various things.

• I had to forgive my dad for not making more effort to connect with me before he died.

• I had to forgive mothers who judged me for working full-time and making phone calls while at the kid’s sports practice.

• I had to forgive friends and family who had lied to me.

• I had to forgive many other things so painful that I can’t list them here.

I learned I had to forgive myself, too. And when I began to forgive myself, the quality of my self-honesty improved. I found I had a long list of failures and mistakes.

I learned one of those humbling (not-so-obvious) life lessons in the process: I couldn’t control others. I could only control myself.

A Friend Suggested Releasing The Debt, Instead Of Shaming

We don’t have to see each person to discuss what they had done wrong and inform them of our benevolence. Rather, it’s about us exercising our choice to let go and release, not about trying to pour guilt or shame on anyone.

As an artist, most of the life lessons I learn are worked out through some creative medium. I doodle or paint to process whatever it is I’ve embodied. I call the process a “Creative Encounter .” It’s based on the concept that when I forgive, it’s like paying a debt that someone owes me. They wronged me, and in a certain sense, they owe me. But I can choose to forgive and pay that debt for them, even if they don’t “deserve” it or haven’t asked for it.

Instead of their “account” being negative, I go back to a zero balance in that relationship.

The Art of Forgiveness

There’s truly a meaningful parallel between the act of creating and the art of forgiveness. When we choose to forgive, the bitterness is removed, and we create more space for love, gentleness, and kindness.

When you choose forgiveness, you choose to be vulnerable and brave. 

Forgiveness is not a “one and done” kind of thing. I encourage you to consider spending time on a regular basis to examine your heart and uncover areas where you can experience more freedom through forgiveness.

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