When I grapple with something, I like to read up on the subject. I’d like to believe that over the years, I’ve become a much more forgiving person than I was 10 or even five years ago. I guess it comes also with having been through a lot of situations or circumstances where I learned that clinging to the pain simply does no good.
Life is too short to be bearing grudges. The road ahead, after one has been broken or hurt, is easier navigated when you offload the excess baggage.
Un-forgiveness is one of those bags that can weigh us down unnecessarily.
I came across this beautiful passage written by poet, author and Jungian psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, who wrote about the ways one could discern whether one has forgiven.
She says: “You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance, instead of rage. You tend to feel sorry for the person, rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing to remember to say about it all. You understand the suffering that drove the offense to begin with. You are not waiting for anything, nor wanting anything. You are free to go. And though there may not have been a happily ever after, most certainly, there is now, a once upon a time waiting for you from this day forward…”
I thought Pinkola-Estes was spot-on.
I once had someone in my life who was very dear to me, but for reasons I cannot quite fathom to this day, the relationship ended. We had been very close friends for almost a quarter of a century; when it ended, it was like getting a divorce.
No matter what I did to restore it, my friend simply would not budge. I’m not one to easily give up, but I found myself finally closing the door on that chapter of my life.
I was angry for a while, but now when I think about my friend, I feel only sadness as Pinkola-Estes described it, and have stopped wracking my brains trying to figure out why it happened. Although there are many unanswered questions still, I have let go.
When to give up
Moving on, they say, is not about never looking back. On the contrary, once in a while, you take a glance at yesterday to see how much you have grown and changed. Eventually, you learn to choose your battles and when to give up the fight, and find it easier to surrender to a Supreme Being who always knows what is best.
Forgiveness, Dr. Fred Luskin of the Stanford Forgiveness Project said, “does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
Sometimes, really, it’s all about re-framing what has happened. Within reasonable bounds, you can always choose to stop looking at yourself as the victim, but rather as the hero of your own story.
Nowadays, when something bad happens to me, just like any other human being, I sulk and cry about it still, but I have found that it has helped tremendously when I start from a place of forgiveness—both for myself and the party that has offended me.
I learned this both from the Bible and from the Amish mothers whose children were killed by a gunman in the Nickel Mines incident of 2006. Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, David L. Weaver-Zercher, authors of “Amish Grace,” wrote: “They led with their forgiving side, and began the struggle to make sense of their pain by extending grace. Relying on deeply ingrained habits of forgiveness, they extended compassion right away, within hours of the shooting.”
Of course, that is always easier said than done—to lead with one’s forgiving side and struggle with the pain later on. This was something I found myself doing only very recently. The incessant rains the past week did not help in that particular struggle.
But God, in His infinite grace, always sends us what we need when we need it the most. On the first rare day of sunshine, I received this note from a young friend whom I had not heard from in a long while. She was someone I had helped a long time ago come to terms with a painful experience from childhood.
Her e-mail read: “I believe that Someone up there sent you to me to yank me out of my dark, tumultuous years and give me a second chance in life. You guided me through true forgiveness and, I tell you, nothing is more liberating than that.”
In reaching out to me that morning from a continent away, little did my young friend know that her words had helped remind me to stop grappling, and instead start leading with forgiveness once more. I needed to remember that His grace is always sufficient, and that in His time, just as He had done so in the past, everything would once again fall beautifully into place.