In one of the final courses of my masters program, I sat and listened to a lecture on the value of forgiving-and how as future healers and clinicians, the power to forgive others would be needed to be effective when working with clients. Many hands raised adding further comments, and every catchphrase you have already heard on forgiving, some saying the words for words sake, and some commenting because they needed to share their own proclamation on forgiveness. Some were just repeating what someone else had told them about forgiving: the catchphrases.
Forgiveness is a big word: Biblically. Spiritually. Clinically. We are told to forgive. I have been told to forgive so much these last two and a half years- most by those who have not a clue on the strength of the word- or lack there of.
I raised my hand. On second thought, I most likely did not. I am sure I most likely blurted out the following:
forgiveness is overrated ( exclamation point)
I meant it. I still do.
However, I have softened on some of the harder edges of my forgiving to come to a better understanding of what forgiveness, on my terms, has done for me.
You can turn the other cheek only twice-and both times the slap of reality will sting just as much, if not more, than you thought it would. Loss takes a toll. Consequences take a toll. Buried secrets take a toll. Disappointments take a toll. We know these things, we learn these things following the long and bumpy road to a life well lived. At some point, you will either decide to keep getting slapped, in the name of forgiveness, or you will stop turning your cheek. You will look at life with both eyes open. Do not be fooled, there will be times, when this new line of vision will sting just as much as turning the other cheek, however, your sense of self will be stronger, your ability to discern will be quicker, and your level of giving yourself the ability to move forward will be unstoppable. It will not be easy. You will fall to your knees. You will get angry. But, you will not be clouded in the catchphrases. The truth is, there are some things that do not warrant forgiveness. There are some things, that warrant the cold, hard truth. Catchphrases keep the truth away sometimes. I think forgiveness, at times, only serves to sweep things under the rug, push the pain deeper down, and create a festering, unresolved void. I am a proponent of not having to forgive, which has the potential of giving power back, taking command, shining the light.
First things first.
Before you choose to decide what you are willing to forgive, you must first look at the truth. You must be willing to peel back the curtain, pull back the rug, stop lying to yourself and others, and lie down in the underbelly of truth.
You will not like it. You will want to turn away and go back to your catch phrases:
Forgive for you.
Forgiving is the price to pay to love
And God said, forgive.
Jesus said forgive.
Forgiving is the gift you give yourself.
I will forgive but I will never forget.
Compassionate people forgive.
When you are hurting, and still healing, forgiveness is out of the question. Forgiveness, like healing, may take much longer than you thought it would. Until you are ready to look at all the pieces and parts, forgiveness will continue to be a catchphrase. You will say it because you read it somewhere, or you heard it here or there, but you will only be saying it for the sake of repeating.
It is absolutely a waste of my time to listen to people who tell me I have to forgive my husband for taking his own life, or sit through conversations with others telling me:
“I forgive him.”
I wish I could forgive the immense,continual trauma, and sadness that ate at his soul, but I can not. It is unforgiving. Our life together was filled with so many rich layers, and also sadness, frustration and exhaustion. I do wish I could forget. This is not possible. Watching human tragedy unfold and not being able to pull someone you love back to the living is the worst kind of unforgiving heartache.
I forgive him for leaving us. I forgive him for choosing death. I am coming to understand he did what he thought was best for his own sense of peace. He wanted the pain to stop. He wanted peace more than he wanted life. For him, peace and this life, could no longer be. Obviously, forgiving did not work for him, the wounds were too deep. Forgetting was out of the question. Clearly.
In these two and a half years, my relationship with forgiving has changed. Not only for my husband, for those who made life even more difficult as I watched my mother ebb into death, for those who were unkind and lacking in compassion during the days and weeks after my husbands passing. I harbored a great pain and a through line of hate.
I harbored a great pain and a through line of hate.
My ability to move forward has little to do with wiping the slate clean with the rag of forgiveness, and more with my ability to let go. I negotiated with forgiveness. I was willing to forgive-and give myself permission to say out loud:
Forgiveness is overrated.
I am not bitter. My anger has softened. I am wiser and stronger. I am more compassionate than I ever imagined.I am more forgiving with some, with others, not so much. My heart has continued room to love, and laugh. I am not holding onto the past. I just understand it more.
You will not forget. Any kind of forgiveness will take time, but you will not forget.
I needed to move forward. I needed to give back to myself so I could give back to my life and my daughter. I had to come to terms with forgiving so I could get on with giving- for this life, for this love, for giving back, for giving my own sense of peace a much needed break. I have come to understand, I get to choose my forgiveness. I get to choose what I give back. I get to create a fortress of boundaries. I get to discern. By forgiving on my terms, I could get on with the business and beauty of living this life.