Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated this past Monday, Jan. 18. Many of us had the day off. Hopefully, you got a chance to enjoy some well-deserved rest. Hopefully, you also got a chance to consider how you might honor Dr. King’s legacy.
That day, I spent time thinking about what Dr. King meant when he said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”
Let’s unpack this. What does it mean to develop and maintain? Perhaps that forgiveness is an ongoing process. That it is not an act we accomplish once and is complete. Perhaps forgiveness is something we consistently have to work at to achieve. Without consistent effort, resentment could make us feel self-righteous. Tempting, right? But holding on to resentment is like holding a hot coal with the intent of harming someone else. Only the one holding it gets burned.
And what is the connection between forgiveness and love? Consider how forgiveness makes love possible. Because others are able to forgive our flaws, they are able to love us. Because we are able to forgive others for their flaws, we are able to love them. Because we are all flawed, forgiveness is a requisite part of being loved and loving.
Now, forgiveness isn’t exactly the answer to society’s large structural problems, and I don’t mean to imply so. We need to continue to fight for change on an institutional level to make the world a better place. After all, Dr. King also said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
I mean forgiveness on a personal level. In forgiving someone else, you give yourself freedom from negativity. You open yourself to other possibilities.
When I was young, I was upset that my father wouldn’t let me play on the baseball team. Instead, he demanded I work on the farm. Farm work is filled with long, hard hours. I held on to that resentment for far too long. But upon forgiving him, I learned he taught me discipline and resilience. For those lessons, I am forever grateful. Forgiving my father made space for love.
So in honor of MLK and the power of love, whom might you forgive and for what? What freedom could that forgiveness give you?