FORGIVENESS – EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE
As thoughts of him crossed my mind, I felt that sudden wave of new anger, pain, hurt and rejection. Woahhhh!!! What is going on here, I thought I had let go? So why do I still feel this way? I knelt down to say my morning prayers and spend time with God, but I just couldn’t concentrate. For heaven’s sake I was still angry. How can I go to God with such anger still in my heart I said? So I asked God to help me and there at the back of my mind I heard ‘you still have unforgiveness inside, it’s time to let go’
Not everyone would relate to this but there’s a chance that you know what it feels like to be lied to, abused, controlled, forgotten, used, rejected or in some way wounded by someone you loved and trusted. I’m yet to meet someone who has made it through life without facing any one of such wounds. And because we all understand what it may feel like to be injured in this way, we also know how truly challenging it can be to offer forgiveness.
When you carry a burden for a long time, it doesn’t feel like a burden anymore. It just feels like life. I rarely thought about it, and when I did think about it, I prayed it would evaporate into thin air, and that maybe I would evaporate with it.
In some ways I did evaporate. In many ways, I did forget. But the longer I went on with my burden, the more I allowed history to repeat itself. It’s funny how that happens. Day after day my burden would grow heavier, and bitterness would grow, and I would be reminded of it again – My need for forgiveness. But I was still unwilling.
I hated the way forgiveness was preached at church, but as a Christian, I knew I really had to forgive. However, for all the whys behind forgiveness, I rarely heard anyone talk about ‘how’ to do it.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you’re saying that the other person is ‘right’ or that what they did is/was ‘ok’; it’s about choosing and re-choosing to let go so that you don’t get stuck living in the past. You forgive, not to anoint the other party with something but to release you to move on and evolve beyond it.
The truth about forgiveness, is that it’s not a natural response and it isn’t for the person you’re forgiving. It’s for you.
According to Anne Lamott, ‘not forgiving is like drinking poison and then waiting for the rat to die’ we must learn how to forgive if we are ever going to heal and enjoy our lives.
Three things I learnt about the ‘how’ of forgiveness:
First of all, we talk about forgiveness like it’s an event and in my experience, it’s just not. In fact one of the things that has helped me heal from my past is to stop saying, ‘I forgive you’ and instead to start saying ‘I’m forgiving you’. Forgiveness isn’t an event any more than brushing your teeth is an event.
It’s something you have to do over and over and over again. Eventually it becomes a habit and it gets easier.
Secondly, forgiveness is like love in the sense that it must move two directions. By that I mean we cannot begin to forgive others until we have learned to forgive ourselves. If you are having a hard time forgiving someone in your life, begin practicing this phrase: ‘I forgive myself for buying into the belief that ….’ For me it was:
I forgive myself for buying into the belief that I deserved what happened to me
I forgive myself for buying into the belief that I cannot be loved
I forgive myself for buying into the belief that I will never be happy
I forgive myself for buying into the belief that saying no is a crime
I learnt to practice this each day. Forgiving myself allows me to forgive others. Start with self-forgiveness. To forgive, you have to go back to yesterday and it’s the hardest thing to do. The thing that seems most impossible, is to find forgiveness there. But strangely, forgiveness seems to come in that place as I practice it in the rest of my life- especially to myself.
Finally, and this is the most important thing I have learnt about forgiveness – that forgiving does not mean forgetting. We get this all wrong in our society and this can be dangerous. Sometimes the most forgiving thing we can do for ourselves and for the person who has hurt us, is to say, ‘thank you for what you have taught me about myself and about life. I’m moving on’.
Forgiveness cannot take place without justice, honesty, boundaries, space, distance and time. You do not have to feel guilty about this. It is not a rejection of the other. It is a radical acceptance of yourself. What would happen if, just today, you thought about the person who has hurt you most and said to yourself: ‘I am forgiving you. By this I mean I am not going to blame you or hold you responsible for my life or my future any longer. The power to shape what is coming is mine now. I take it back for myself. I reclaim my power. And that grudge I’ve been carrying, well, it’s hurting me more than it’s hurting you, so for that reason, I’m going to set it down’. See how it feels to walk around without it, a little lighter, a little freer. You don’t have to make any promises about the future- except that you will try again tomorrow.
Forgive anyone who has caused you pain or harm. Keep in mind that forgiving is not for others. It’s for you. Forgiving is not forgetting. It’s remembering without anger. Forgiveness opens up a pathway to a new place of peace where you can persist despite what has happened to you. Forgive yourself and create a place of freedom, inner strength and serenity.