Forgiveness: Essential in the Workplace

I have struggled with forgiveness my entire life.  I can hold onto resentments longer that a miser holds onto money. At age 49, I  have only recently let go of perceived transgressions committed against me in childhood and some that occurred later in life.  I feel better when I do, however it is not my natural inclination to do so.

As I mature as a Christian, I am realizing that if I don’t truly forgive – not the “I forgive you – look at how saintly I am – poor me because I have been wronged by those meanies” kind of forgiveness, but the “I no longer think or talk badly about you – it’s not my place to be angry with you – we all make mistakes so I let the past go and start fresh with you today” kind of forgiveness.  I have been great at the former; the latter, not so much.  I hate that about myself, but I can tell God is working his magic on me because of the conviction I dredge up past wrongs. For one thing, the energy I exert in fueling these grudges is exhausting.  More important, not forgiving creates destructive workplace dynamics.  I started this journey a year ago, and there is so much I still have to learn.

To begin this venture, I dug deep into my Bible. I had some resentments I had been working on and couldn’t seem to move from shallow forgiveness to real forgiveness.  How did I know that? I allowed the memories to replay in my head which only strengthened my anger. From my study, my mind understood the importance of real forgiveness and  that God has no time for this form of superior judgmentalism. So I started praying for those I still felt resentment towards.  And nothing happened.  I still got angry often. So I consciously imagined a stop sign when the thought reappeared.  I still got angry often.  So I kept praying. I still get angry, but less often than I used to.  Yea!  That is progress.

There are truly many miles between the mind and heart.  Some days I am successful, but then I fall back into old patterns.  When that self-righteous anger resurfaces, I feel shame which suggests I must be on the right track. Like a kind parent, God reminds me, so I acknowledge my mistake and ask Him to help me. Then, I forge ahead.

Recently I read an article titled “Forgiveness in the Workplace” by Michael Stone.  This article was powerfully transforming.  In the article, Stone quotes L.Epstein who wrote Trusting You are Loved.  Epstein writes:

We are, by forgiving, in essence granting complete absolution and redemption.  We relinquish our right to punish, cling to resentments, and hold grudges.  We give ourselves and each other permission to move on, free of baggage and history, able to progress without the burdens of the past.  Forgiveness fosters our well-being when we know that no matter what happens, we will forgive and be forgiven.  In an environment of love and forgiveness, we thrive.

Wow!  That struck a chord!  First, it proved to me I had not really forgiven some people, or myself for that matter, for simply being human.  After a lot of self-reflection, I realized that, yes folks, it stems from my own childhood beliefs I am not worthy of forgiveness.  But here is where my faith is helping me get a handle on this!  I AM NOT WORTHY OF FORGIVENESS, BUT GOT FORGAVE ME ANYWAY!  In fact, thanks to Jesus, he doesn’t even see my sinful self but sees his son’s righteousness instead.  Pretty heady concept, to be sure.  Because of God’s mercy and grace, it is okay that I am not perfect.  So is everybody else.  Because that puts me on a level playing field with every other human being on the planet, it is making it easier to forgive.

A second AHA! moment that resulted from reading this article was the statement that when people  know they  will be forgiven for being human in a workplace, they can trust those with whom they work more easily because they feel safe.  This required more self-reflection:  I have rarely felt “safe” with people.  I am fairly certain most people have had their trust violated by somebody.  Because that happened often in my childhood, my experiences taught me family can’t be trusted, mean girls exist,  and many people with stomp on you to further their own ego.

My  study of Jesus Christ’s 33 year journey on earth did little to dissuade me from that opinion. People took the love he offered and crucified him for it.  Now, that is real betrayal!

But, unlike Jesus, I haven’t  forgiven the way he did.  That is okay.  As humans, we will all fall short of the way he led his life.  But I want to do better!  Holding onto resentments robs me of the peace God offers and allows those who may have harmed me, intentionally or unintentionally, undue power. I get it.  Now I just hope I can hold onto it!

I can only get to the peace I desire by letting go of my ego which seems shocked by human behavior.  The old “How dare they do that to me!” must be replaced with “I, too, have done things that I would not tell you nor God if he didn’t already know.”  (Yes, I stole that line from Langston Hughes’ “Thank You, M’am.”  It is much easier to forgive others when I remind myself how imperfect I am.  It makes me no worse and no better than anyone else. It allows me to forgive but prevents me from being a doormat.  When I get this concept, it is really freeing.  When I don’t, I return to self-righteous indignation.  It’s not working for me anymore.  Time for me to grow up!

The following chart really caught my attention in Michael Stone’s article.  It shows the predictable outcomes of four levels in an organization where forgiveness is missing.  If these symptoms are present in any of these levels in an organization, there is a pretty good chance employees are struggling with forgiveness.

Individual

Dyad

Team

Organization

Happiness Partnership Mutually supportive Open authentic culture
Presence Collaboration Feeling of community Focus on contribution and service
Creativity/Innovation Trust Joy/Fun Employee Retention
Vibrant health Open/Authentic Playfulness Flexible work force
Autonomy Communication Shared learning Respected in the community
Personal responsibility Supportive Interconnection Empowerment
Peace of mind Acknowledgement Action orientation Pride in organization
Authenticity Appreciation Clarity of roles Meaningful work
Freedom to self-express Gratitude Direction Values in action
Choice Ownership Sense of belonging
Self assurance Interconnection
Focused Respectful
Openness Growth
Nurturing
Sharing information
Compassion

After reviewing this chart, it became glaringly obvious to me that forgiveness will promote growth in a workplace.  Lack of forgiveness will destroy it.  I want to be a positive change agent, so it is imperative I practice true forgiveness.  Today, I am owning my part in this and with God’s help, I will do better and be better.  I know I can’t do it on my own!

And this is where I need the help of all my critical friends, those I trust to tell me when I am off course.  Should I wander off the path of forgiveness and return to that worn out path of resentment, please remind me of this blog!  I choose God’s way!  It works better.

 

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