Dear Lauren,

I went to camp this summer and my roommates were not very nice (to put it mildly). Now, with Yom Kippur quickly approaching, I have a question: what should I do if I do not forgive them? Maybe as time goes by, I'll get over it, but right now, THERE IS NO WAY!! I understand that in order for God to forgive me, I must forgive others. Does this mean I'm in for a bad year, God forbid?

Lauren Roth's Answer

I have such awesome dreams. I mean it. Every evening, as I tuck myself into bed, I should really get the popcorn, because I always wonder which fantastic, original movie my brain will be showing me! My dreams have complex plot lines and strong symbolism and vivid images and incredible sound effects….

So this is what happened: I wrote my answer to your very relevant and universally applicable question, and then I went to sleep. As I slept, I had the most amazing, germane dream – so I burst out of bed at 6 a.m. to add the dream to this article! Here it is:

I dreamt that my neighbors came over to my house and greatly hurt my feelings. They got into their car to drive away, but as they backed out of my driveway, their car plunged into a wide hole filled with churning water-and their vehicle sank! With them inside it! Immediately and frantically, I telephoned for an ambulance, but then realized that by the time the paramedics arrived, my frenemies would have most certainly already drowned. Unless. Unless I pulled them out of the deep water, out of the car, shook the water out of their lungs, and administered CPR. Which, in the dream, I did (to great, dramatic music, of course) – and they lived!

The symbolism of my dream vis-à-vis your question is this: YOU can be the hero. YOU have the power, and YOU have the control. Your friends who were mean to you are stuck in a deep, dark hole filled with bitterness. But you are outside that hole. You can be the hero.

Forgiveness means you don’t carry the bitterness with you to poison your life, your relationships, your happiness.

Your friends hurt your feelings. Let’s assume their actions were wrong. What can you do about it? Only one thing: your forgiving them means you don’t carry the bitterness with you to poison your life, your relationships, your happiness. That makes you the hero.

Why does God want us to forgive others? Because He doesn’t want us carrying around excess negativity in our life. He doesn’t want us carrying around malevolent feelings, because it hurts us and our life and the people around us. Negativity breeds negativity. So God wants us to release the negativity and increase the positivity in the world and in our lives.

Let me make a bold and very important distinction: your forgiving someone does not mean you allow them to continue or to repeat the hurtful behavior they have exhibited towards you. Your forgiving someone does not mean “forgive and forget.” You will probably never forget the hurts these roommates doled out to you.

Your forgiving someone just means you’re not going to allow your anger against them to hurt you anymore. You should say to them (either directly or only in the privacy of your own company, if you prefer): “I will not allow you to hurt me anymore, and I will take whatever practical measures I need to take to protect myself from you. AND I will also not allow my anger at you to poison my life, so I release my hatred and anger at you from my heart. I haven’t forgotten what you’ve done, but I truly don’t want to carry bitterness with me anymore.”

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you aren’t hurt each time you’re reminded of their cruel behavior towards you. Forgiving someone just means that you want, as much as possible, to live without the gall and wormwood of anger at them festering inside your life. Forgiveness is complicated.

Your holding on to the hurt and anger and pain won’t change your ex-roommates’ behavior. It will only hurt you. If you’re afraid to let go of the anger towards your roommates, listen to this story:

Last year at this time, I accompanied my husband to a medical meeting in Rome, where I bought a gorgeous, completely original dress. After wearing it a couple of times, I knew I needed to wash it, but I was afraid it would be ruined in the process. I gingerly put it on delicate cycle, cold water, hung it on a hanger to dry afterwards…and was completely horrified to find that my wonderful cleaning lady had decided it should be ironed-and had left burn marks all over the back of the dress. I told myself, “It’s just a dress. It’s just physical possessions…” but, honestly, I really was sad for such a rare find to have been ruined despite my carefulness.

That exact night, I randomly received the following email from a friend: “When God takes something from your grasp, He's not punishing you, but merely opening your hands to receive something better.”

And I say the same to you. Don’t be afraid to relinquish your ill feelings. You don’t have to forget what they did to you, you don’t have to allow them to hurt you again, but you can be the hero and open your hands to receive something much better than anger: positivity.