One of the hardest things is to let it go when someone wrongs you or someone you love. Our first impulse is not often the healthiest. Anger and hurt can make us want to fight back and even wish ill will on the offender. But life is full of hurts and wrongs inflicted, and intentionally or unintentionally, we will be disappointed and frustrated by the behavior of others toward us. So how do we live our lives not being brought down by our pain or resentments?
Thomas Á Kempis, in his classic text The Imitation of Christ, offers a challenging instruction: “The patient man who suffers injuries and wrong from others, yet sorrows more for their malice than for the wrong done to himself, has a wholesome and blessed purgatory in this world, and so have they who can gladly pray for their enemies and for those who oppose them, and those, too, who in their heart can forgive those who offend them, and those who do not wait long to ask forgiveness.”
This is hard. What makes it so hard are the words “more” and “gladly.” I can be sorrowful for another person’s malice toward me, but more than my own sorrow for being wronged? I’ve prayed for my enemies before, but gladly?
Jesus told us to love our enemies (Sermon on the Mount). St. Paul tells us not to brood over injury (1st Corinthians 13). Why does the spiritual life have to be this tough!
To be sure, we will not instinctively default to this kind of love after being wronged. It takes mindfulness and practice. It takes keeping the Sermon on the Mount, 1st Corinthians 13, and these words of Thomas Á Kempis’ constantly in our hearts and minds. It takes a commitment to earnestly, if not gladly, pray for those who persecute us.
There is good evidence that those who practice such forgiveness are happier and experience less anger and anxiety. That is a wonderful fruit of practicing forgiveness, but we are not prompted by that. We practice forgiveness because we are called to fashion our lives after Jesus Christ, who rather than resent his enemies laid down his life for them and for all.