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  • the struggles of forgiving and being forgiven

    The biggest challenge I've faced in the last 3.5 years is forgiveness. At the end of 2011, I was deep into a book which spoke on living life with love and from the heart. When I came upon the passages that delved into forgiveness, a light went on inside of me. I had held on to so many resentments for so long, and at that time in my life was holding on to an enormous amount of pain and anger from a betrayal. I'd carried it for almost 6 years. As that light went on, I realized that what I needed most was forgiveness. A day later, I contacted those involved in that betrayal. We began a dialogue that ended in a morning tea and peace found between all of us, which still exists to this day. What I realized, in terms of these people, was that the reason there was so much pain and anger for me in this situation was because I loved and cared about them very much. For years, I told myself I hated them, that they were awful, heartless people, and in doing so denied not only the truth about these people (because as Mr. Rogers says, even good people sometimes do bad things) but also the truth about myself and my own feelings and actions. Their actions may have been the first to occur, but in the years following there were plenty of times where my own words and actions in response to my powerful emotions were also hurtful, abusive, and cruel. While I'm sure that my offering of forgiveness had an impact on the ones I chose to forgive, by far the greatest impact this had was in my own life. The lightness and freedom I felt at allowing the chains of anger and resentment to fall away was both significant and immediate. Most importantly, forgiveness allowed me to look at the larger picture of the situation, and finally offer an apology for my own actions. The understanding of just how important forgiveness is has never left me, and as difficult at it always is, it’s something I’m dedicated to reaching in every situation. 

    Difficult indeed. There are many situations in which forgiveness seems impossible. There are many situations, including several I’m dealing with in the present, where apologies will never come. It is absolutely possible to forgive without ever hearing “I’m sorry”, but in those moments where you find your mind, body, and spirit wracked with pain and anger, when grief encloses you in a cocoon from which you feel you’ll never emerge, it’s hard to imagine forgiving someone who carries no regrets for their actions, or who firmly believes they have nothing for which to apologize. Indeed, when the pain, anger, sadness, and grief you feel are so great, it’s often hard to offer forgiveness even when the other person has already offered their sincere apology. 

    Several months ago, I purchased The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, written by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho. I’ve recently experienced betrayal and abandonment by the people I held most dear in my heart. Once again I found myself filled with anger, pain, sadness, and a deep grief. I knew from my past experiences that forgiveness would ease the burden and the pain and so I made the conscious decision to forgive the ones who had hurt me. What’s been the most difficult for me is that even having made that conscious decision, forgiveness hasn’t turned on like a light as it did in the past; in fact, quite the opposite. It sputters on and off like a loose bulb. My mind grapples with this daily, knowing of the immense freedom and peace that forgiveness brings, yet finding myself, day after day, unable to reach that point. For me, this adds yet another dimension of pain and anguish to a situation: being angry at myself for not being able to offer forgiveness. It’s a terrible catch-22, knowing that forgiveness will free me, knowing that everyone is deserving of forgiveness, knowing that I too have hurt others and want to be forgiven, yet still not finding that place inside where I am able to let go. I have no problem understanding and accepting the desire for forgiveness in my mind, yet my heart and my gut feel and know that I have not yet forgiven. It is often incredibly difficult not to be angry at myself in the face of these circumstances. 

    Tutu’s book outlines a fourfold path to forgiveness: Telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness, and renewing or releasing the relationship. Well before setting eyes on Tutu’s book, my heart understood these steps and I was able to follow them in a number of situations. The situations I’m currently facing, however, are significantly more of a challenge due to the nature of the relationships and deep love between myself and the people involved. Forgiveness in these cases is neither easy nor immediate. It is a long, painful, and difficult path that winds back on itself, taking me in what often appears to be the opposite direction I want to be. I’ve found myself having lost the path altogether at times. Bishop Tutu makes it clear that this is normal. Forgiveness isn’t a linear progression, nor is it always instantaneous. We will and do find ourselves stuck on one or more of the steps as we attempt to free ourselves. There is no time limit on offering forgiveness. So long as we are committed to that goal, we have the ability to get there - getting to that point will take the time it takes, however long that may be. Every day I remind myself of this fact, even though I struggle with it frequently, even though I’m faced with anger from others at not being able to forgive “soon enough”, and faced with anger inside myself towards others at not being forgiven.

    I am determined to keep following this path, no matter how long it takes or how difficult it may be at times. I do not love lightly or foolishly, and those who are dearest to my heart have become so for significant and valid reasons. Conflict does not erase the deep love I have for them, regardless of any present circumstances. Neither does the anger, pain, and resentment I feel towards these people. Indeed, if I didn’t love them as much as I do, the pain would not be so deep and difficult. That, I feel, has been the biggest realization of this journey: The ones we love the most are the ones able to inflict upon us the biggest wounds. My healing will not come from holding anger against those who I feel have wronged me, nor will it come by dismissing them and/or attempting to deny the realness and depth of the love I feel for them. This is not an easy path, by far. Bishop Tutu stresses that “…the preference is always toward renewal or reconciliation, except in cases where safety is an issue.” I am very much in agreement with this, even though it is not an easy choice to make. Pain can and will inhibit our willingness to work towards renewal; pride and our persistent need to be justified in all that we do will insist that we immediately choose release. I currently face a vast number of challenges manifesting physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and am well aware of how these challenges are affecting my journey down the path of forgiveness. There’s not a day that goes by when my gut screams at me to release, to run away, to avoid any more difficulty, but I know that in the long run this does not honor those whom I love but who have hurt me, nor myself, nor the trueness of the love I feel. I will not be making this decision for quite a while. I will continue to follow the path I have chosen, wherever it leads, however difficult it may be, because I know the immense power of the freedom the journey brings. 

    “There is no magic wand we can wave to go back in time and change what has happened or undo the harm that has been done, but we can do everything in our power to set right what has been made wrong. We can endeavor to make sure the harm never happens again. We all need forgiveness . There are times when all of us have been thoughtless or selfish or cruel. As we have said earlier, no act is unforgivable; no person is beyond redemption. Yet, it is not easy to admit one’s wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. “I am sorry” are perhaps the three hardest words to say. We can come up with all manner of justifications to excuse what we have done. When we are willing to let down our defenses and look honestly at our actions, we find there is a great freedom in asking for forgiveness and great strength in admitting the wrong. It is how we free ourselves from our past errors. It is how we are able to move forward into our future, unfettered by the mistakes we have made.” - Tutu, Desmond; Tutu, Mpho (2014-03-18). The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World (p. 167). HarperCollins.

  • A Tale of Lies, Honesty, Suffering, and Forgiveness.

    Cast of Characters
    Someone Else

    One evening, you're having a "conversation" with Someone, and it's not a nice one, and things are said to each other which cause an enormous lightbulb go off in your head as you suddenly understand the full extent of someone's dishonesty. Except the dishonest someone isn't the person with whom you're conversing, it's Someone Else. You realize that out of a gripping fear of making mistakes, out of an inability to cope with them, out of a lack of self-confidence, out of an inability to stand up for themselves, Someone Else lied. Not just to you but also to the Someone with whom you're engaged in a not-so-nice "conversation". You realize it because a year ago, something happened involving all three of you. Someone was told story A while you were told story B. Someone Else was afraid to be honest with either of you, and the really shit part is that as a result of Someone Else's lying, you stopped talking to Someone. 

    The really really shit part is realizing this is the case not simply because of the conflicting stories told by you and Someone. You realize this is the case because Someone Else had told you directly that they had issues with honesty a long time ago.  And in fact, there were dozens of times you'd caught Someone Else hiding the truth from you, denying the truth, or not telling the full story about things that had happened. You'd told Someone else more than once that a difficult truth upfront was so much easier to handle, so much better than discovering a lie later, and asked for honesty. 

    So now that this veil has dropped, you begin to see holes. You hadn't seen them before, you'd hoped they weren't there or that they'd been patched, but they weren't. And there were also times you ignored them entirely, but they were there. You know that you weren't the only one who was lied to, that the web of lies Someone Else wove was large and extensive. It hurts. It rails against the nature of the soul you saw in Someone Else. You feel angry and betrayed. You feel confused and heartbroken, and you find that you don't even trust your own feelings in this matter, whether they be from head or gut or heart. 

    You feel lost. You were always, always honest with Someone Else. You made a point of it, in, not so much made a point of it, but wanted to be. *Always* wanted to be honest, because Someone Else was so very very important to you, and if there was one thing you'd knew for sure it was that being honest and upfront (and compassionate though you certainly had trouble with that, but generally, so does everyone) was the best way to avoid difficult situations turning into Very Hurtful and Damaging Situatons. You knew this because after years and years and years of being lied to and, in turn, lying to others yourself, you understood the sting which could accompany honesty was nothing compared to the gut punch of lies and betrayal, as it causes far less damage and is far easier to heal. 

    The truth is that you really, honestly loved Someone Else very deeply and with all of your heart despite all of it, and despite it all, you still love them now. You love Someone Else so very much, despite their flaws. Maybe even because of them, because you also have flaws and want to be loved despite them. You yearn for compassion and understanding. But now you find yourself facing a new truth: that you've lost trust in Someone Else. You long for Someone Else, you grieve that they are gone, you miss them from your hair follicles to your toenail molecules, but you realize you no longer trust them. You hate it. You hate yourself for it. You love Someone Else so deeply, but now those feelings of love come accompanied by a cold unease which sits squarely in your belly. You hate that too. You doubt yourself because of it. You doubt your feelings, even your sanity, because of it. You're very sick from that gut punch, so you struggle daily with leaving the door cracked or allowing it to close completely, not knowing which is the right choice. 

    The thing is, quite recently, Boogedy Shit happened in your life which dropped your own veil and forced you to realize you had been hiding the truth from yourself, denying the truth to yourself, or not allowing yourself to admit the entire story. You came face to face with every mistake you ever made, every lie you ever told to others and to yourself. You suffered immense pain once you realized just how extensively you betrayed yourself, and how doing so led to the suffering of people you cared for a great deal. You hated yourself for causing others pain, and you hated yourself for causing your own pain. 

    You struggled to accept, to realize, to face the truth, to keep your head above water. You fought even though you desperately wanted to give up, and it seemed no one could see you how close you were to drowning when you were. And when you almost drowned, twice, you survived not because someone gave you a hand, but because some instinct made you fight to stay afloat. It was horrible, terrifying, painful. It turned your entire life upside-down and caused you to lose sight of who you are as you became a shadow of what you were. In reality, you did drown. You had to shed who you were to survive, to stop yourself from sinking to the bottom. Instead, who you were sank to the bottom and drowned, and what was left emerged at the surface exhaused, shaken, confused, and terrified. There's sun on the water, and it's reflecting in your eyes and blinding you as you tread water and tread water and tread water and even though your limbs feel like they are about to fall off you're still paddling because is that land over there?

    You've known in your mind that no matter how deeply you love Someone Else it's up to them to discover their truths and listen to their heart, but in this moment that understanding floods into your entire being. It's up to Someone Else to decide if they are able and willing to put forth the effort it takes to make a journey, and it's up to Someone else to decide what that journey will be and which path to follow. In the end, it's their faith in themselves which will determine the path, keep them going, and allow them to reach the endpoint. Not your assistance, not your love, not your belief. Not your knowledge. Even if you're right. Even if the truth is that they CAN do it, that it IS possible, in the end it's all them. You know this well because you've been through it before with another, another who couldn't and/or wouldn't choose another way, and even though you believed it was possible, they didn't or couldn't, or didn't want to. In the end, they didn't want to make the effort, they felt it wasn't fair, they felt they shouldn't have to work so hard, so they stopped trying, and it broke your heart.

    You knew it well because you've been through it with yourself, you've smashed up against that wall repeatedly, desperately trying to find a way around it and failing over and over again until eventually you felt it wasn't worth the effort, because no matter how much effort you put forth you'd never get there. You believed you'd never do it, and so you stopped trying. You saw Someone Else trying, you knew they were, and you believed in your heart it was possible even as you saw them hitting that wall over and over again and feelings of futility began to pile up in both of you, and then Someone Else decided it wasn't worth the effort, or it wasn't possible, and they couldn't or didn't want to do it. You watched them give up, and once again, it broke your heart. But there was nothing you could do to make it happen then, and there's nothing you can do to make it happen now. All you can do is be authentic to yourself and continue to love Someone Else deeply, for as long as that love exists. 

    You know that what finally allowed you to break through was changing your belief that you couldn't. One day you believed it was possible and you made the choice to do whatever was required to make it happen. That choice, and the effort it took (and is taking) was yours alone to make and to give. Even when those you loved believed you could break through and so desperately wanted you to for so many years, you didn't or couldn't make that choice because you believed, or made yourself believe, that it could never happen. You were heavy, and you sank, until one day you couldn't take it anymore, and a spark of hope ignited inside of you, and you chose. 

    And then another lightbulb appears in your head. You realize it's actually been on the whole time but you didn't notice it because it was so dim. But the longer you look at it, the brighter it gets, and you begin to see that you and Someone Else may be on different paths, but you share a common journey. You begin to feel and comprehend more than just your own pain, but also Someone Else's. You've both quaked with fear, you've both lost trust and respect, you were both terrified of abandonment, of being alone, you both saw no escape, and you both were so desperate for an end to the suffering, which both of you experienced as well as gave, in much the same way.

    Then you remember the other day when you decided to buy the book Desmond Tutu wrote about forgiveness. You remember how hard you cried working your way through the introduction, and the more you think about it, the brighter that bulb gets. Brighter still as you re-read these words: 

    There have been times when each and every one of us has needed to forgive. There have also been times when each and every one of us has needed to be forgiven. And there will be many times again. In our own ways, we are all broken. Out of that brokenness, we hurt others. Forgiveness is the journey we take toward healing the broken parts. It is how we become whole again.

    And now that lightbulb has grown very bright, bright enough that you notice a mirror below it, illuminated by it. When you look into that mirror, you see Someone Else's face looking back at you. You finally understand the truth, and as this undestanding spreads through your heart, the pain, anger, disappointment, and grief that has been so heavy begins to feel lighter, begins to loosen. Not entirely, not completely. There is still so much grief, so much pain, but it has finally begun to move. You've come to a key point on the path you chose, the path of Forgiveness. You thought you would find someone else on this path, but when you came to this point, you found yourself waiting there. So you take a break, sit down next to yourself, and begin to heal. 

    You know that the pain of honesty is easier to heal because it is rooted in love, respect, trust, and understanding. It's not only others with whom you need to be honest, it's yourself.  It's not just others you need to trust, it's yourself. It's not just others you need to respect, it's yourself. Most importantly, it's not just others you need to forgive, it's yourself. Forgiving your own flaws and mistakes, forgiving yourself for what you've done to hurt others and what you've done to hurt yourself leads you to the abilty to forgive others. Especially when the ways others have hurt you are the same ways in which you've hurt them, or hurt others before. And you realize if you can't even face the wrongs you've committed or if you don't forgive yourself for them, you'll forever chain yourself to them and allow yourself to be dragged down by them, sinking. And when others wrong you, you'll lash those chains around those wrongs and those people and be dragged down. You'll sink. 

    The path of forgiveness is exhausting and has often taken every ounce of courage and strength you've had. It has become so difficult at times as to make you think you chose incorrrectly, and wish you'd never chosen it in the first place. But now you do know, your heart knows, your soul knows. You're in the right place at the right time, you've made the right choice, and so you continue. 

    You continue to love Someone Else deeply and with all of your heart, despite it all. You allow the universe to send that love through to them, with the idea that Someone Else can heal too, that Someone Else can be strong, can be confident, can clearly hear their heart, and can succeed where they think they have failed. You send off a prayer that whatever path Someone Else has chosen, whatever path they're on, they can get to that place...but it's up to them to choose.

    -=:because you also have flaws and want to be loved despite them:=-