What are you holding onto? You know, that nagging thing you or someone else said or did yesterday, ten years ago or even when you were a kid? You might not wake up thinking about it, but it crosses your mind at least once a week. You spend more time mulling over it than you’d like to admit. Yes, that thing that has its grip on you so tight it hurts all over again when you’ve had a stressful day or are feeling less than stellar.
I grew up thinking forgive required forget and said those difficult, confusing words,
I forgive you,
but soon felt like a failure when I thought about [insert the same old/ new issue here]. And now as an adult, playing certain offenses over in my mind like rewinding scenes in a movie brings back angry, hurt feelings. My body knows this and tells the world I am not fine by sending red, hot splotches up my neck and face. As a little girl, I learned to act as if all was okay, denying my true feelings and stuffing them deep down so no one could see (and I didn’t recognize them). So many years later after getting married, those long gone emotions gushed to the surface and exploded. I had to save my relationship and find a way to heal.
I am far from an expert on this, but I have learned some things after reading book after book. Some books didn’t help, some preached forgetting (and I tossed them as soon as I could), but some made the uncomfortable subject seem do-able.
5 things about forgiveness I wish I knew as a kid:
1. Forgiveness is a process. Saying “I forgive you” aloud (to the person or yourself) is just the beginning. It takes work. Writing it down, telling others about it, even speaking it aloud if you’re the only person around reaffirms your decision to begin the process to forgive.
2. Forgiveness is a continual peeling of something unnecessary that hold us down. It reminds me of a a snake, shedding its skin or a tree, leaving a peeled off pile of bark on the ground each year. We might have to forgive that same offense again (and another time or 10) when we feel all those old emotions.
3. Forgiveness does not excuse the offense, deny it or even necessarily forget it. Instead it’s freedom for the forgiver from that video stuck on rewind and a heavy load of anger and bitterness.
4. Sometimes forgiveness might involve telling that person who hurt you, but it can come in writing as well. I might be wrong, but I don’t believe it requires reconciliation. Oh, I have struggled with this (I’ll blame the silly forgetting idea). I had to learn boundaries are necessary and healthy.
5. For me, forgiveness requires talking to God and then laying all the mess out on the table. When I choose words I think he likes, I feel like I’m pretending. When I say it like I honestly feel it (Dear God, this sucks and I hate that this is so hard. I’m afraid of how I’ll feel and what this means. I’m not sure I can do it, etc), it’s altogether different. I feel heard, understood and finally out of hiding.
Forgiveness brings peace where there was ongoing turmoil. Rather than constant anger and stress that can bring on health issues and plain, old unhappiness, it opens the door to receive peace and joy. Who wouldn’t want that?
Want to read more about this? Check out Getting Rid of the Gorilla for true stories of people like you and me, who found freedom by dealing with that thing.