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FORGIVENESS

Tricky business this is. Attempting to write about forgiveness without divulging too much information about others is like walking a tightrope. One false move and you begin to wobble, and too much of an overcorrection might send you flying off in a downward spiral.

I was brought up in the Catholic faith so from an early age I was taught two things about forgiveness.

First, the golden rule: always treat others as you would like them to treat you.

Second: ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

The first doesn’t require a religious background to learn about or understand, or at least it shouldn’t. It should already come downloaded in our DNA. Some may choose to delete it, but they do so at their own peril – karma really can be a bitch. When we don’t treat others the way we wish to be treated we invite situations into our lives that will inevitably require forgiveness for all parties involved. I think we can all attest to this.

The second comes from the prayer, Our Father and instructs us to turn to God to ask for forgiveness. The deal is, if we agree to forgive others then we will automatically be forgiven by God in return, which essentially lets us off the hook (at least for the time being).

I understand the impulse as a way to teach forgiveness, but it feels like being coerced into doing the right thing by the promise of being forgiven as a reward. I remember feeling incredulous as a kid being expected to believe it was that easy. I remember thinking, that’s it? I agree to forgive others, and I’m forgiven for whatever sins I might have committed against someone, even though I haven’t asked to be forgiven by them?

Why would I be granted forgiveness for myself so easily when I was not expected to ask for forgiveness from the actual person I hurt?

Instead of looking to the heavens for absolution, I sought forgiveness from actual people. Whether or not I ever spoke the words, “can you please forgive me?” if I cared enough about that person I would not give up until I knew in my bones I had made things right or exhausted myself by my efforts.

“At the end of life, the wish to be forgiven is ultimately the chief desire of almost every human being.”- David Whyte Consolations

That seems crazy to me but its no wonder it works out this way when we’re taught to rely on an imaginary peace that comes from outside ourselves instead of it coming directly from the person we hurt.

It’s scary stuff to ask for someone’s forgiveness because then the power rests entirely in their hands. We may honestly and sincerely ask, but ultimately it is left up to them. Whereas when we are the ones expected to do the forgiving the power is entirely ours.

Both take an honest effort, and both require all parties to come to the table.

Throughout my life, perhaps without even being conscious of it, I’ve never been satisfied to leave things unsaid that need to be said. When I know I have hurt someone that I care about, I cannot let it go until I’ve at least made a heartfelt attempt to make things right. I have no wish to be that person who at the end of my life still has a burning desire to be forgiven.

And if someone, in turn, seeks my forgiveness, I have never refused it. I may need some time to lick my wounds, but I have always had the sense that I could just as easily be looking in the mirror. That I could just as easily have caused the same kind of injury or worse to someone I love, whether I meant to or not, so who am I to put myself above anyone else and refuse them? We all make mistakes. No one is innocent.

“Forgiveness is a skill, a way of preserving clarity, sanity and generosity in an individual life, a beautiful way of shaping the mind to a future we want for ourselves; an admittance that if forgiveness comes through understanding, and if understanding is just a matter of time and application then we might as well begin forgiving right at the beginning of any drama rather than put ourselves through the full cycle of festering, incapacitation, reluctant healing and eventual blessing.” – David Whyte Consolations

I think I have always intuited that. From a very early age, I recognized that I would only be hurting myself if I was determined to hold a grudge.

Whenever wounded, I would be left with a scar that would always remind me of the injury and would always be tender when touched, but by forgiving and letting go of the grudge, at least I didn’t allow the wound to fester.

There are many instances in my life that I could look back on and in hindsight see just how badly I was treated by some people who loved me. People that never once asked to be forgiven by me. These instances required a great deal of soul-searching from me to forgive for my own peace of mind, even though I was never asked to. But I’ve always felt it a necessary albeit painful part of life to do so, if not for them than for myself. I have found that they are precisely the experiences I’ve learned the most from over the years.

When I was kicked out of the home I grew up in, it took me a long time to forgive my parents, but I was able to do so once I was old enough to realize I needed to look in the mirror and redistribute some of the blame where it rightly belonged. I was a thorn in their side causing them pain, so they got rid of me.

I never gave them an excuse that would justify their actions, but there were things that I did back then, things that I got away with without them knowing about, that made me realize whether or not they ever knew about them, I was still guilty. So I guess in a way, over time, I justified their actions for them, and by doing so, I was forced to forgive myself for the part I played as well.

Nowhere in the bible does it mention how important it is to forgive yourself. Nowhere. At least nowhere that I’m aware of. But in my experience having the courage to forgive yourself is at least every bit as important. It requires you to dive deep into the dark waters where your soul resides.

In the past, there were things that happened to people that I love dearly and the way those things were handled left me feeling like I could never forgive the adults that should have been the ones to make things right. Innocent people were left unprotected and left with wounds that haven’t healed to this day. Those instances have been among the hardest for me to forgive even though I was not the injured party.

For the longest time, I blamed the ones in charge, the ones who did nothing, the ones that were too afraid to handle what was going on. I vowed to never forgive them for their inaction. But when I reflect on those experiences now, I see that I only know part of the story. I don’t know what prevented the adults from acting so it’s unfair of me to judge them without having all the facts. I also see that I too was in some ways to blame. I should have spoken up. I should have been more forceful in coming to the wounded parties defense. I should have done more to try and make things right. To try and seek justice for those whom I loved and had watched suffer so much.

But I didn’t. I did what I could, but regrettably, I stopped short of demanding more. I was young, and I was afraid, and I let that fear paralyze me, and I suspect that had a lasting negative effect that can never entirely be erased.

And I know I must forgive myself for that.

“To forgive is to put oneself in a larger gravitational field of experience than the one that first seemed to hurt us. We reimagine ourselves in the light of our own maturity and we reimagine the past in the light of our new identity, we allow ourselves to be gifted be a story larger than the story that first hurt us and left us bereft.”  – David Whyte Consolations

Standing in the light of my own maturity, in the light of my own identity, I am gifting myself a new story. I am closing the book on the stories that hurt me and left me feeling bereft, or I am re-writing them.

I am picking up my pen and writing a new story for myself because I know there is no time to waste.

I invite you all to do the same.

 

NEXT WEEK: FRIENDSHIP

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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