For many of us the battle to forgive is fraught with difficulty. Whether you're forgiving a friend, relative, work colleague or simply a stranger who was nasty to you, it takes a lot of strength to say, "I forgive you." Even if you just murmur the words under your breath.
Forgiving yourself can be very tough too. We've all done things that we are not proud of, or we wish we'd behaved differently, or that we hadn't upset somebody that was dear to us.
In the Christian world, it's relatively easy to tell yourself, "God forgives me, so I need to forgive myself." But regardless of religion or no-religion, everybody struggles with the concept of forgiveness. You might think you've forgiven yourself. But then you still wake up every day with that unspeakably sick feeling in your gut because you're angry with yourself at something you did - or failed - to do. Or somebody you intentionally, or unintentionally hurt.
But sometimes forgiveness can be easy when you have to forgive them. My friend Annie betrayed our friendship. But instead of starting a fight, I decided to let it go. I was going through some challenges at the time and didn't need another one on my list. My Grandmother once told me, "Choose which hill you want to die on." In other words, choose your battles. So I laid my proverbial sword on the muddy battlefield of female emotions and walked away from my 'War with Annie.' How did I deal with it? I just stopped talking to her. I acted like she was dead already.
The only problem is that her son and my son are close friends. They'd known each other since the age of five. They were in the same football team, they'd put their arms around each other and laugh at the same silly jokes; two peas in a pod. But I selfishly moved my son away from his friend so that I wouldn't have to see Annie. That's when the questions began. "I haven't seen Mitch for ages. I miss him." I came up with some excuses. That Mitch's family was really busy, too busy to see us. But my son didn't buy it. "He's my best friend. I want to see him," he cried. "Damn," I told myself. "That means I'm going to have to forgive Annie, like it or not!"
A lesson from Charleston
Watching the incredible grace of the relatives of the Charleston shooting victims so selflessly forgive the gunman who has destroyed so many lives, made me open my eyes. So that's what forgiveness really means. And if those beautiful people can forgive the gunman, surely I can forgive somebody like Annie whose actions were so trivial.
So I made a decision to forgive my friend. In my story, forgiveness came easy because I realised my un-forgiveness was impacting on my son's happiness. I just picked up the phone and asked Annie if we can bury the hatchet and arrange for our kids to play ball this weekend.
"Sure", she said. "Mitch has really missed him." So that was it. All it took was for me to tell myself, "I forgive her," and actually mean the words.
The only moral to this story is that being put in a position where you really have to forgive the person (ie simply because my son adored her son) makes you realise that forgiveness can be easy when you have no other choice. That's not to say forgiveness is always easy, but sometimes it is.
You need to make a choice between being angry and forgiving. You might have two voices in your head: one telling you to hold onto your grudge. The other telling you to forgive and forget. Anger verses Forgiveness is an ongoing battle.
If there is somebody in your life you probably should forgive, or if you need to forgive yourself, just try saying the words. "I forgive you. I forgive me." Or just say the words in your head. You might just feel the weight fly away from you like invisible feathers you've been holding tightly in your fist. You never know.
LJ Charleston is a journalist and author of up-coming book The Spiritual Gap. She has three sons, she will love them until the Sydney Opera House sails away. @ljcharleston