She stands there. Helpless. Hopeless. Heartbroken, as she watches him drive away, forever.
He covers his ears with eyes squeezed shut, crouching in the corner of his room, praying the fighting will stop.
They remain, collapsed on the floor, cradling their baby, once so full of life.
He holds her, all of them, promising he’ll find a new job.
She kneels, her hand holding his, as the man who held that same hand of his little girl, journeys “home.”
Life is. And then we are left with the overwhelming, formidable task of forgiveness. Forgiveness.
Songs. Sayings. Books. Podcasts. Poetry. Hymns. Public Speakers. The theme of forgiveness dates back to the creation of our universe.
Forgiveness is for you, not for them.
Forgiveness sets you free.
But what does it mean to you? How do you define the delicate act of forgiveness? I wrestle with this daily. What does it mean to forgive? How? How do you act in forgiveness when the pain hurts so badly??
Every religion, divinity and spiritual theology has an opinion about forgiveness. Yes, to me, it is an opinion. One perspective in an ocean of many. How forgiveness works is really up to you.
When I asked my teenage daughter to define forgiveness, her response was:
“When someone hurts you or your feelings and they say sorry.”
If only it were that simple. Just say sorry and everything will be all better.
I have read, listened to and watched thoughts on how to forgive. Some present it as a simple task. Those perspectives never worked for me in the past. I needed, yet a different angle to approach it. Whether you’re angry at yourself, another person or situation, or even a higher power, forgiveness is not for the faint at heart or tough-skinned. When you are in the midst of the anger, pain and hurt, forgiveness is as easy as swimming through wet concrete. To see outside of your own pain requires an enormous amount of something entirely different. Yet, I continue to grapple with the idea of forgiveness, trying so hard to view life from outside of myself as well.
Then I read The Shack by William Paul Young. Just like that, it seemed all of the theories, all of the books I read in the past finally made sense to me.
Isn’t forgiveness really about love? Whether it is self-forgiveness (yep, been there too) or forgiving another…isn’t it really about love? We are not judges. Or God. Or any other governing spirit. And not an idealistic love. That is not the kind of love I am referring to. I am speaking about love. The very essence of what it means.
Is it love? Is it grace? Maybe it is both.
It sounds like love. It feels like love. And it is certainly full of grace.
Forgiveness can feel heavy at first, leaving you torn between holding on to the hurt and letting it go. Once you let go, you cannot go back there. The hurt defines the wrongdoing, the trauma, the pain. In a world where we thrive on fairness and justice, letting go of the pain just doesn’t seem fair, does it?
Then there is no one to blame, no justice served for the heartbreak. Your insides want to slam down the iron fist, bang the gavel furiously, screaming “Justice! Condemnation!” or whatever pain-ridden words come to mind.
But holding onto pain and withholding grace does not make you strong. It isn’t “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” necessarily. It makes you bitter. Bitterness inevitably follows. And where, exactly, does that leave your heartbroken soul?
This is known for sure. It does not benefit the soul to hold onto pain, trauma, or brokenness. I’ve tried it. For years. The effects were detrimental and compounding. All it did was morph into amplified trauma. It actually grew the pain, exponentially. Not exactly the outcome you are so desperately searching for amidst the storm, is it?
So maybe…maybe it is time to try a different approach. Dear Albert said it best: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Yeah. It is definitely about time to end the insanity that harboring heartbreak causes, slowly eating away your soul from the inside out.
Which brings me back to the book, The Shack. As you know, I do not believe in coincidences. I do believe that the Universe presents itself at the exact time you need it. Kind of like Liz G’s Big Magic theory I love so much. So my sister-in-law sent me a text recently, out of the blue, suggesting I should read this book. She forewarned me that it will be painful at times and that for a woman who “feels everything” in life, that this book would rock my core. Sounded like the perfect book for me! Haha!
In all seriousness though, it was. It came at just the right time. As always. I still don’t know how I feel about forgiveness. It is hard. It.is.hard. This is true. But it is necessary. So necessary that your life depends on it. That I know for sure. No one wants to be defined by their pain, by their hardships, their trauma…no matter who or what caused it.
I also know that forgiveness, regardless of its challenges, sounds like love and feels like grace. Moreover, forgiveness leads to peace. Lastly, if you ask for forgiveness, then you need to forgive. Love. Grace. Peace. Forgive.
The following quotes from the book resonated with my soul and provided just the view I was so desperately seeking. And while the book is religiously based, I do believe it applies to anyone, everyone..regardless of faith.
“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat….”
“Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established….”
“Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation….Forgiveness does not excuse anything……..”
Whoa. Forgiveness is love. Because whether it is removing your hands from your own throat, another’s neck, or even shaking your fists up at the Almighty above, forgiveness is for everyone. Everyone. Yes. Everyone. Because everyone deserves love.
I think for a long time, I was under the notion that forgiveness was a “one and done” kind of a thing. Say you’re sorry, like my beautiful daughter said. Sometimes, it is.
But depending on the depth of your trauma, forgiveness cannot be that. If it was, it would be living in naiveté or denial, or inside of a fortress to contain the pain that was never dealt with. Certainly not the path to healing and peace.
Instead, this quote spoke volumes:
“Son, you may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness……”
You may have to forgive a hundred times a day, for days…weeks…even years. It is a process. It is a strong heart process. And what makes it even more soul-tearing is when the person who needs forgiveness is not sorry, or worse, no longer in your life. How do you forgive then? Heartbreak from love. Trauma from childhood. Or what if it is God or a higher spiritual power you are angry with? The loss of a parent, the loss of a child, the loss of a friend. Having your heart ripped out of your soul. How do you forgive then??? The experiences of life are endless.
Like Sarah McLachlan sings:
“and you ask for forgiveness. You’re asking too much. I have sheltered my heart in a place you can’t touch..”
Sure, we can lock up our heart. Build that unbreakable fortress and hang on to the pain. Hang on to the pain that is rightfully ours. Yes, it is easier to stay angry. It is “easier” to withhold forgiveness. It is certainly our right for living through what we did. But doesn’t that land us right back in the center of self-destruction? Is it worth it? I do not think so. No matter how challenging it may be to take those courageous steps forward.
So how do we forgive? I struggle. I admit it. I do not write this pretending by any means that “Hey if I can do it, so can you!” No. It is a daily struggle. Daily. There are days where I do not think I have the strength to do it.
But here is the thing:
At the end of the day, my heart always returns to love. Without fail. (#exhales) Because Forgiveness, to me, sounds an awful lot like love. It feels an awful lot like love, too. And is certainly full of grace. The story in The Shack poses a strong argument for forgiveness. If we require real-life examples (although I do believe in the miracles told in the book), we can turn to The Gandhis:
Bravery and strength. These two virtues rise to the surface yet again. Forgiveness asks you to bravely love, to maintain a strong inner soul, and peacefully let it go. Every day. Over and over and over again. You may have to forgive a hundred times a day, for days…weeks…even years. Until someday, you realize that you have healed. So much so that your prayers of forgiveness will transform into prayers of love and wholeness. For yourself. Or for the causer of pain. Or even for the unexplainable heartache that only you and the powers at be can resolve. If it is God, then you will find your way back to His goodness and grace. Whoever or whatever it is you believe in. Like I said before, regardless of faith, I feel it applies to all of us because Life is.
I love the Buddhist perspective on forgiveness:
A practice. A process. A prayer. All of which lead us to wholeness, mental well-being and peace. Forgiveness is love. It sounds like love. It feels like love. And is certainly full of grace. Bravely love, maintain a strong inner soul, and peacefully let it go. Every day. EVERY day. Practice, pray, live, love. We can do it together, ok?? Because I know I cannot do this alone. Practice, pray, live, love. And one day, the light within will shine freely again. Let it in.
No longer torn,