With the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul yesterday (August 7) we count down the days to Rosh Hashanah (30) and Yom Kippur (40). During this period, t’shuvah (return to family, friends, community, Torah, God) is the spiritual and emotional per-occupation of the Jewish world. Central in this process of return is the ability to forgive others, ourselves and God.
Forgiving those who hurt us is among the most difficult emotional challenges in our lives. According to a 2001 study, Psychologist Loren Toussaint and colleagues at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, it was learned that men have a more difficult time forgiving than do women, and men have a more difficult time asking forgiveness of others than do women (LA Times, September 9, 2002).
The study upon which this article was based that appeared in an article in the Journal of Adult Development (2001) also found that those people who have forgiving personalities “have fewer psychological problems, feel more satisfied with their lives and are generally healthier than grudge holders.”
It goes without saying that unresolved anger has a negative impact on our marriages and our other relationships because anger hardens the heart and distances us from others feeding mistrust and coming in the way of intimacy.
The best antidote to anger is forgiveness, which really means letting go of what once occurred. Doing so does not require us to forget the harm that another caused us, but it does enable us to relieve ourselves of the negative burdens of the past.
I love this statement by the poet, novelist and playwrite Alden Nowlan (1933-1983), and I offer it at the beginning of this season of forgiveness, return and renewal:
“The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, s/he becomes an adolescent; the day s/he forgives them, s/he becomes an adult; the day s/he forgives him/herself, s/he becomes wise.”