The other night, Brooke came to me with a concern. Well, more than a concern. She’s angry and struggling to get over some issues related to her father’s family. After her father’s death, her uncles did some unspeakably horrible things she’s had to deal with in addition to the death of her father. Because she’s legally an adult, my ability to step in to protect her was limited. Faced with the option of pursuing them legally, she chose, instead to simply sever ties. In their minds, they did nothing wrong, it was she who was the wrong doer, and thus they were entitled to take certain matters into their own hands.
Brooke’s father had an odd relationship with his brothers; the talk was always about their being best of friends, but behind the scenes were wrenching stories of bullying and abuse. As a result, my former husband limited our interaction with them to a few family gatherings a year. After his mother died a few years ago, and his father’s health was deteriorating rapidly, he wanted to see if things would be more comfortable and reached out to spend more time with them. When he was diagnosed with cancer, apparently the brothers became much closer. When he was diagnosed, my husband spoke to me and our investment advisor about his wishes, which were made in writing. I never dreamt we’d ever really use the wills we’d written, but alas, we did and boy am I glad we had them, after seeing what happened. Knowing the brothers had a propensity to be highly insensitive, their behavior toward my daughter and his estate weren’t entirely a surprise to me.
Brooke is angry, and I don’t blame her. I was angry too, but somewhere along the line, something has shifted in me. And I wanted to be able to articulate the shift to Brooke but I really couldn’t figure out what it was exactly; I’m usually the grudge holder, the one who can’t forgive and move on. While I wouldn’t say I’ve “forgiven” them I will say I’ve accepted the fact that they are the way they are, and what they did, even though it was wrong on so many levels. The bottom line is that we can’t change it and taking them to court would only prolong the agony and not achieve really substantive results. As I prayed about helping Brooke with her anger, the word that kept bubbling up was acceptance.
When we are hurt by another’s actions, our first reaction is anger. Anger is important, it tells us something is wrong. We deal with our anger in different ways, (some of which are less than constructive) but anger is supposed to let us know to protect ourselves. To take notice, pay attention and possibly take action.
There are layers to forgiveness; I think it’s a process, just like grief. After anger comes wanting justice and retribution. We want others to know what happened, we want justice, we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, we want things to be made “right”. (That’s why true apologies come with the words “I am deeply sorry, and I want to make things right. I’ll do what ever it takes.”)
In time, we start to notice that the situation is moving further and further into the past, that there is nothing we can do about the past. Sometimes, we want to hang on, not to forget…I know I hold on to remind myself not to become complacent; to remain vigilant.
As I dance closer to forgiveness, I am loath to let go of transgressions…and each time I am brought to forgiveness I am taught a little more. I’ve inched my way to acceptance, at this point. There was a time I could not have gotten to acceptance, to be perfectly honest, so I know I’m making slow progress.
Brooke and I have an idealistic streak; people, especially when it comes to family and close friends. They aren’t supposed to do those horrible things to us. They aren’t supposed to be selfish, hurtful or deceitful. They aren’t supposed to lie or steal. They are supposed to have our best interests at heart, but we all know this isn’t always the case, and, to move on and heal, we have to accept people where they are. It’s the only way.
As I’ve prayed to learn about forgiveness (and to be able to do it) so many times. This time around, a video showed up in my Facebook feed “How to Forgive Assholes”. (Please forgive the language; the video really hit home to me as one who struggles to forgive).
From the video, I realized that when someone hurts us, there is a “linking” that takes place between ourselves and the person who has hurt us (especially when you hold a grudge: you cant stop thinking about them and what they did). The only way to break the link is to forgive. To let it go, to stop carrying it, to put it out of your mind for once and for all. In forgiving, we are protecting our own light, otherwise, we become filled with anger, fear and hate, just like our perpetrator. To let it go, we release all of that. All that anger, all of everything related to the situation. That doesn’t mean we let the person back into our lives, it means to wreak more havoc, it means we accept them and let their act move into our past where it belongs. The more we dredge it up, the more it hurts us.
I thought of the bullies I’ve known in my life. They are all people who have been hurt or damaged in some way or at some point in their lives. I thought about anger, retribution, and all the things we want to do when we are hurt, and of course the video is right, when we go down those roads, we become like the person who hurt us. They say forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. The video reinforces that, but more from the angle of stopping a cycle of violence, rather than just something that will just make us feel better. (I guess I couldn’t get my head completely around forgiving “just for me” —even though it made sense, I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to do it. And thus, I’ve spent years torturing myself. When you look at it that way, it’s a lot easier to look for ways to let the transgression go from inside of ourselves, doesn’t it?
Giving this new way of thinking about forgiveness a shot; I’d love to hear how you think about or handle forgiveness. I know for some it isn’t as difficult as it is for me. I’ve linked the video in case you are interested in seeing it too.
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