How appropriate to be addressing forgiveness and the sense of peace that is “letting go” today, on Father’s Day. I suppose of all the people I’ve needed to forgive over the years, my father continues to top that list. Adding to that list is now my son’s father and my ex stepfather. There are many emotional and spiritual pains in this world but few more deeply rooted than the pain of an absentee man. As deeply rooted as it is, so as painful is the process of forgiveness. Especially when you have to forgive a person who won’t say sorry.
When I was younger, I made the mistake of thinking forgiveness was the same as an apology. To me, forgiveness was a movie scene where two people sat down, talked it out, both said sorry and both accepted it, and they choose to live happily ever after. In that understanding, I was forgiving my brother’s everyday for drinking the last of the kool-aid without refilling the jug or forgiving my mother for forgetting to sign an important school paper before leaving for work. Ask me, I was an expert at forgiveness. And the other stuff, well it was either ignored and too far gone to worry about. Out of sight, out of mind, out of heart.
But it’s not. Out of heart. It’s just deeper rooted or hidden below the surface. The dark seed has actually buried itself deeper and taken root and because you don’t see it, you assume there’s nothing there. Until the day you try to plant something new. Yup, on that day, you accidentally unearth a very hollow space and suddenly, something starts to grow. What I’m talking about here is the day that un-forgiveness starts to spring up in your life and relationships. It becomes evident in how your interact with people. If you’re like me, you find yourself thinking about who hurt you and comparing the people around you to your past. Even literally, people with that name or physical feature make your cringe a little. You get a sinking feeling in your gut and it’s not necessarily fear but pure unadulterated rage. At that moment you realize that you’re holding onto something that is shaping the courses of your life. And maybe it’s time to grow, heal, and forgive.
Let’s go back a little here because I know that for some of you, the very thought of forgiving just made you sick to your stomach. I can relate. Or maybe you’re thinking, I do feel that way but I have forgiven them. Again, I understand. But a sign of forgiveness is not your ability to simply handle the situation or the person. Just because you’re strong enough to face your demons doesn’t mean you’re ready to live without them. That’s what forgiveness is and that’s what it does. It uproots the bad seed, burns the plant, and fills in the hole. Forgiveness makes room for newness. Rather, a true sign of forgiveness is when that thing no longer dictates how you live and the thought of it all doesn’t interrupt your soul.
As cliché’ as it sounds, forgiveness is not just for the other person, it really is for you. That person, place, or situation has so much power over you that it haunts your dreams and impacts your moves. You get salty on certain days or in certain conversations because you know the pain of a thing and it still grips you. When you forgive, you make a committment to yourself to no longer allow that entity to define you. And, you no longer define it. You truly and fully let it go.
Don’t get me twisted, forgive and forget is a load of crap. You will never forget. Some of us have physical reminders of our trauma. But YOU WILL bow out of living a life driven by it. That pain becomes a puzzle piece again. Just another part of the story of your life but not the whole picture. Certainly not the summation of who you are. You make peace with the pain. You’ll still have feelings about the situation, that’s normal. But those feelings will no longer be emotion fueled. They will just be a truth; a fact of the matter.
If you’re ready to forgive, you’ll want to find a moment to sit with yourself. You’ll need to reflect, interpret, and accept. Below are a few steps to follow as by Andrea Brandt and explained by myself.
1. Acknowledge the reality. Think about the situation, think about its origins, it’s path, and it’s existence. You’ll need to recap it all and acknowledge that it had an impact on your life.
2. Celebrate your life. You survived it. In your own way, you made beauty from ashes simply by staying alive thru it all. Maybe you made some bad choices on the way but you are still here to right wrongs. Appreciate yourself for making it thru and even more for the current journey you’re on.
3. Now, think about the other person/ people. Think about their humanity. He or she is flawed and acted from limited beliefs. They have a skewed frame of reference and made choices based on it. When we are hurt, the other person is taking from you in order to give to themselves, What do you think this need was and why did they solve it in such a hurtful way?
4. Finally, decide who needs to be forgiven and how. Your accuser, yes. But what about yourself, do you also need to forgive yourself? Decide if you’re going to confront the person or simply decide within your heart to forgive. If you decide to confront the person, don’t expect an apology, you just came to speak your truth. If you decide that it’s a private matter, try writing a letter to them. Or you could write one to the pain. Or, you can simply say it aloud, “I forgive you.”
I’ve watched many people be overcome by un-forgiveness. Even seen them move half way around the world to make the ignoring easier. Not only do we cripple ourselves but our future, our loved ones, and our passion by holding onto things that serve no purpose. I encourage you to have the honest conversation with yourself about the things you need to let go of. Again, I’m not asking you to pretend it didn’t happen. I’m simply suggesting that you release yours hands grip on the thing, relax your heart, and free your soul. You deserve better than that pain. It’s time to give space for something else to grow.