Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Forgiveness Part Two (The Personal Side)

Some feel forgiveness is overrated or wonder if perhaps only certain people or actions can be forgiven. From my experience, the gift of forgiveness cannot be overrated, and it is possible to forgive anything, if you choose to and are willing to work at it.

I have had a number of challenges where forgiveness was very, very hard.  I have been in abusive marriages and the consequences to my own life and that of my children have been severe.  What no one knows unless they have been through it is the compounding, long-reaching effects that living with abuse has.  It is truly a "gift" that keeps on giving in so many ways.  And that makes forgiveness something that can't be done just once. Forgiveness sometimes needs to be practiced over and over and over as each new consequence rears its head-- sometimes years down the road.

Having gone through a period of time where I got tired with the work associated with having to forgive, I discovered the consequences of not forgiving are not for me.  For a number of years it felt I was having to forgive over and over and over, without much respite. I felt I was drowning. Three fellow college students whom I thought of as friends did something relatively minor in the great scheme of things, but it pushed me over the edge.  After all attempts to come to some understanding failed, I snapped.  For three years I struggled mightily with an inability to forgive them, with holding on to anger and hurt.  It was hell.  At times I felt "normal." I had a "right" to be angry. I even told myself I had forgiven so much in my life, why should I have to forgive this, too? Wasn't I just being a doormat?

If I shared what I have been able to let go of and forgive, you'd probably be incredulous that this situation in college should have stymied me so.  At times, I was astonished at the anger and bitterness I held.  But the good news is that it made me think a lot about forgiveness and the cost of not forgiving. I saw that it was not the act itself that makes it so hard to forgive, because in this situation I was very clear that my "friends" had done nothing compared to what I had forgiven others for in the past.  It isn't a matter of how big or small it was. It is a matter of what it meant to me.

When we dig deeper into our thoughts when we hate or refuse to forgive, there is much more going on than just a certain person having done something to us or someone we love.  It may raise questions about why it happened to us (or happened to others and NOT us), why someone had that power over our life, why a higher power "let" it happen. Why is there such a thing as "being in the wrong place at the wrong time?"  Why do we have to face certain things and others don't?  Did we do something to deserve it?

Sudden, violent, severe changes often provoke these questions we would rather not have to ask.  The source of the force that makes us question is easy to blame and thereby put everything into the realm of "some jerk caused us a horrible circumstance."  On the surface that is exactly what happened. Deeper there are questions about life, about humanity, about change, about purpose, about meaning.

Forgiveness is a choice.  It can't be forced on anyone.  You can't even force it on yourself.  Lack of forgiveness can seem safer;  it is a wall keeping certain people distant.  It feels appropriate at times. If you forgive, then what stops the person from coming back and doing it again?  But one does not have to do with the other.  Fences of the right sort are requisite.  Fences do make better neighbors.  When a toddler begins to explore, a fence is often a good way to keep his exploring a safe experience.  When we realize a person has the reasoning of a toddler it may well be best to keep a fence between.  But that doesn't have to become a wall of hatred.  And it does not have to keep us from forgiving.

We can think we are being disloyal to others harmed if we forgive.  This can be a tough one because we may feel if we forgive the action we are saying it was okay for them to have done something horrible to someone we love.  But that is NOT what forgiveness says.  Forgiveness says, "I release this experience from being something powerful and in control.  I put it where it belongs- as having nothing more to do with any of us, as something in a moment that has now become another moment for all of us to live differently.  And I put in its place the belief that there is more than what I see, that this is not the whole of life.  This experience may have changed my life (or the life of one I love) completely, but I do not accept that it can make me bitter, angry, vengeful, or make me hate.  I am bigger than the actions of someone else upon me or my loved ones."  For some of us it is as Christ Jesus said, "Forgive them for they know not what they do."  The result of forgiveness is freedom for us from the prison of that experience.  

In the end, we all have to find our way if we want to forgive. It is likely a battle one has to fight more than once.  And your experience may parallel my own where you think ,"FINALLY I have forgiven everything," and then BANG some new repercussion may rear its ugly head and you will find you have to forgive another aspect of the experience. But once you have felt the peace that comes with forgiveness, you realize it is worth pursuing.  In the end, it really is about you, not the other person.  Forgiveness heals you, not them. 

Forgiveness stops another having control over you.  As some perpetrators have said, anger and hatred they could handle- forgiveness stopped them in their tracks, made them see the person, stopped them from dehumanizing; there was nothing to fight against, and all that was left was the ugliness of their deed for which they had the harder task of forgiving themselves.  If you want to confound your enemies- forgive them.  Make no mistake, you are not freeing them from the prison of the experience- you are freeing yourself.

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