The holidays are here. You know what that means. It's the most wonderful time of year. Or the worst. Depends on how you feel about Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. And what they represent.
Some people love the holidays. They love getting together with family and friends, cooking and eating, giving thanks, exchanging gifts, offering peace, and spreading good cheer and tidings of comfort and joy. They love being optimistic about the present and hopeful for the future.
Some people are cheerful all the time. They are a walking, talking, living Hallmark card. Every day is Christmas. They go over the river and through the woods to grandma's house year-round. Even when they're down, they're up. The only thing they know (and show) is unconditional love.
Others appreciate the spirit of the holidays. They do their best to live up to it. They send cards to loved ones, decorate the house and tree, wear festive clothes, bake festive food, sing festive music, go to church. But their hearts aren't really in it. They're just going through the holly jolly motions. They aren't living that life. Deep inside, their souls are hurting.
The holidays aren't great for everyone. For some, they can be a sad, dark and lonely place. Some families can't stand each other. They would rather drink motor oil than raise a glass of eggnog to celebrate anything. Some people have issues with their parents, can't stand their siblings, hate their inlaws and loathe their neighbors. They don't like anyone.
There are Scrooges and Grinches everywhere. Always have been. Whatever holiday traditions people have, one thing remains universal in every family and any culture— drama and conflict. Every family has a level of drama and conflict. From peace on Earth to global thermonuclear war.
Now more than ever, we have drama and conflict. In the world. In our communities. At home. Feuds last longer. There are fewer calls for peace and louder calls for war.
We have forgotten the true meaning of what it means to be human. Humans are a flawed species. We didn't start out as warmongers. We all start off as kids, innocent, seeking love and belonging. We are corrupted, driven to make bad choices. Life messes us up. That doesn't excuse the mistakes. It explains them.
Our human mistakes can be passed down generations, creating a spiral of trauma. The beauty of life is we can learn from our mistakes and break cycles of trauma and pain. It isn't easy, but it is possible. Those lessons are what restore relationships and build bridges to peace. In the world. In our communities. At home.
As Theresa Magness wrote in "Creating Good in the World":
Forgiveness is the essence of peacemaking and begins with ourselves. First, we find the wisdom to be gained from whatever mistakes we have made or failures we have experienced and give thanks for it. Then we forgive ourselves by releasing blame, guilt, and pain. We also need to forgive others who have hurt us. We do not have to condone what they have done, but we do need to release our anger and resentment toward them. … Since our inner world is reflected in our outer world, peace, joy, and love (the fruits of forgiveness) will flow into the world's environment and help people who are having difficulty forgiving themselves or others.
We need more forgiveness today. People who understand how to forgive should encourage forgiveness in others. We can start in our own families.
Are there any longstanding family feuds in your family? Can you encourage feuding family members to let go of grudges? Let go of bitterness. Let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. Stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw or mistake.
The act of forgiveness allows us to move forward down a path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Forgiveness doesn't erase memories. It enables healing. Letting go of negative feelings is good for our health and relieves a strain on our souls. After family feuds end, we can focus on ending community feuds, then bigger conflicts.
Peacemaking begins with forgiveness.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned 27 years for opposing the apartheid system in South Africa. Despite facing harsh conditions meant to break his spirit, he never gave up his efforts to achieve equality for all people. After his release, he helped end apartheid and became the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
Before he left prison, Mandela said, "As I stand before the door to my freedom, I realize that if I do not leave my pain, anger and bitterness behind me, I will still be in prison."
Forgiveness does not make us weak. It sets us free. Give the gift of forgiveness this holiday season. We might rediscover our humanity.
Eric Ortiz lives in the Wedge with his family. When he’s not community building, he’s the director of media for Big Edition and writes bilingual children’s books with his kids. Their first book, “How the Zookalex Saved the Village,” is available in English and Spanish.
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