. . . is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Those are the words of the theologian Lewis B. Smedes.
I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately and its intimate relationship to spiritual awakening. Whether we are talking about forgiving another person or forgiving ourselves or forgiving our past or forgiving our resistance to forgiving — whichever it may be — what we do not forgive, we have not released. We’re still attached to it. We delude ourselves into believing that it won’t let us go, but the truth is, we won’t let it go. And our awakening happens when we have completely uncovered our true Divine self. Trying to step into the pure light of grace while dragging that unforgiven baggage along is like trying to dance in a suit of armor.
I had some work-related conflict with someone a few years back, and he came to see me just recently. He had been through some challenging times in the years since I had seen him. He looked different. Softer. Kinder. Humble. He sat in my office and said that he wanted to make amends, that he knew he had been difficult in the past, even brash and unpleasant, and he knew I had been on the receiving end of some of that. He looked me right in the eye and said, “I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry and to ask your forgiveness.”
I told him he had it. I told him that I admired his courage and strength in addressing this, and I told him that as far as I was concerned, it was all released and forgotten.
The truth was, I had released it long ago. He didn’t really need my forgiveness, because I was holding onto nothing that I needed to forgive. The act in which he was engaging was a way of forgiving himself. It was an act of acknowledgement and an act of reconciliation, but at its core, it was the release of something that had clung to him even if it no longer clung to me. And I was happy to be there to participate in his ritual to set himself free.
That freedom is what every person wants. That freedom is the goal and result of spiritual awakening. When I know who I am and when all those parts of the ego that feel pain and feel betrayal and feel any sense of separation or distrust or fear fall away like tissue paper in the rain, then I am free, and nothing can infringe on that freedom.
The spiritual journey to awakening is the act of removing layer after layer after layer of ego until nothing is left to cover the Divine Presence that you are. Forgiveness is the removal of a layer. Forgiveness is taking off the suit of armor. Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free.
The more we engage in forgiveness, the freer we are. The more we live in the constant attitude of forgiveness, the more compassionate and loving we are. The more we practice a daily forgiveness of ourselves and our past and the people who are a part of our life, the more we live in spiritual fullness and joy.
If you want to be fully awake and fully free, forgive everything.