As Valentine’s Day approaches, I was thinking about what I’d like to teach my children about love. If I had to pick the most important lesson to share with them, what would it be?
There are so many things they need to know about love. That they are worthy and deserve kindness. That they should seek out someone who makes them laugh, and is smart, responsible and giving. That they will experience the clawing pain that comes from love unreturned and love lost and even when they don’t believe they will, they’ll get through it.
Still, if I look back on my own life experience, the singularly most important lesson I’ve learned about love is forgiveness. I don’t believe you can experience deep and long-lasting love without it.
First, I want my children to know that you can’t love anyone else in a healthy way if you don’t love yourself. Loving yourself requires forgiveness. You can’t tear yourself apart when you receive criticism. You can’t beat yourself up over every weakness. You can’t accept that all is lost if you make a mistake. Everyone is flawed. If we didn’t screw up, we wouldn’t be human. Please forgive yourself for your frailties and instead of wallowing in them, learn from them, let them go and be the best person you can be. Do the next right thing. Start the new day with an outlook of love, gratitude and possibility. Love yourself for everything you are, including the parts that are imperfect.
Second, I want them to know that you can’t experience and maintain love for another without forgiveness. Sometimes people hurt you because you are caught up in their whirlpool of self-destruction. It’s not because they woke up that day and decided their goal was to ruin your life. I know this. I’ve been through the most devastating of hurts, and I’ve learned that most of the time I was hurt because I was the nearest person to someone who was suffering and unable to cope. I’ve watched those people learn to forgive themselves, learn from their mistakes and become healthy human beings. I’ve forgiven them, just as they’ve forgiven me when my own maelstrom sucked them in. We have rich and rewarding relationships now. Make forgiveness a part of your ife. You will learn that there are a lot more things you can let go of than you think.
This year, my husband and I will have been married for 19 years. I truly believe that exercising forgiveness with each other is the chief reason we are still together and happy. Our children see us fight. They see us make mistakes. They also see us apologize to each other when we are wrong, and forgive each other. I hope they are soaking it in.
Forgiveness is the final form of love. ~ Reinhold Neibuhr
Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasinly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” ~ Henri J. M. Nouwen
Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. ~ Anne Lamott
The ineffable joy of forgiving and being forgiven forms an ecstasy that might well arouse the envy of the gods. ~ Elbert Hubbard
There is no love without forgiveness and there is no forgiveness without love. ~ Bryant McGill
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