It’s interesting how pain works. Sometimes, it’s immediate. You do something, you get hurt, and man, do you realize it! Other times, it can be episodic. That odd twinge at the pickup basketball game reminding you to take it easy, that you’re not quite as young as you used to be.

Sometimes, pain can creep up on you.

Last year, I strained a muscle in my back. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was a twinge, nothing more. Then, a few weeks later, the headaches started.

The cause wasn’t immediately obvious. After simply enduring it for a while, I realized that the muscle I strained had tightened up. Because of that, I was sitting slightly differently when I was at work. That put stress on different groups of muscles, a cascading effect that left my entire back in knots. Add it all together and you get a recipe for major headaches, starting in my back and radiating all the way up to my head.

Figuring out exactly what was wrong required some Poking and prodding. I needed some literal self-examination to find the root cause of the issue that was plaguing me.

Which brings me around to the National Day of Forgiveness.This day exists specifically to encourage us to “develop realistic methods for incorporating forgiveness in our lives.” 

As a culture, we do fairly well when our injuries are physical. We know how to pay attention to the warning signs of a stroke or a heart attack. Start running a small fever and you know it’s time for ibuprofen, chicken soup and rest.

We do a lot worse when our injuries are spiritual or emotional, because we think that forgiveness means giving someone else a pass for the hurt they’ve done to us. We miss the idea that at the individual level, forgiveness is about us, about our attitudes and reactions to the emotional hurts that have been done to us. Ultimately, forgiveness is not about changing someone else, but about changing ourselves.

That may seem strange until you think about it. We can forgive people who are no longer part of our lives. We can forgive people who we never expect to see again. We can even forgive people who have died. So you can see that forgiveness is a process that you go through for yourself, not for other people.

The path to forgiveness starts with self-examination. The damage done to us by others isn’t immediately obvious. Yet they end up affecting our entire lives. Relationships suffer. Our own self-image can be damaged. Feelings of inadequacy, uselessness, depression, anger, and other negative emotions can abound.

So long as you hold on to that pain, it’s going to affect your life. It will most likely lead to bitterness and resentment. As the saying goes, embracing bitterness is like drinking poison, hoping that someone else will die. It eats you up on the inside without affecting the other person at all.

Understanding pain and working towards forgiveness does not mean that you forget about the hurt that was done to you. Nor does it mean giving someone a pass to hurt you again. What it does mean is that you stop letting that injury from the past continue to damage your life in the present. 

Today is the national day of forgiveness. This is a great day to sit down and think about what it is in your life that seems wrong, how it came to be, and how you might try to deal with it to avoid the additional pain that it has caused you. Take the time to look at yourself, and decide who it is that you need to forgive. Learn to recognize that source of your pain and let it go so you can start to heal. It may take time, but you will be a better person for it in the long run.

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