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August Blog Challenge - Day 18

What is the most difficult thing you've had to forgive?

Okay, if you've been reading along, you know.  This one hits me.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how to write about this one.  It's one of my character defects.

I could write about Doug.  How I had to learn to live with the fact of his suicide.  That I had to somehow become okay with the fact that he died at my son's grave.  That I had to find a way to release the enormous sense of guilt around the way he died alone.  That I had to also try to forgive myself for not being what he needed, where he needed, when he needed.

Kate told me to just write, "I don't.  The end."

But I thought, maybe I need to explore the idea of forgiveness, and maybe, just maybe come to terms with why it's so damn hard for me.

There are lots of types of forgiveness.  Some I'm pretty good at.  Some not so much.

There is day-to-day forgiveness.  It's relationship repair.  When you love someone, this is essential.  I read somewhere that a good marriage is the union of two people who are good forgivers.  There is truth in this.  Humans are imperfect beings.  No matter how kind the person or how honorable the intentions, people are going to do things that hurt you.  Usually without meaning to.  Sometimes out of their own pain or insecurity.  When you come to depend on another as part of your support, when they matter to you, it's gonna happen.  John Gottman talks about the circle of repair.  It's so important to recognize when something negative is happening and to make that attempt at repair.  To reach out. To say things like:

  • What are you wanting to say?
  • How are you feeling?
  • I want to feel close to you.
  • I want to understand.
  • That hurt my feelings.
  • This is important.
  • You are important.
  • Please listen.
  • I hear you.
  • I'm sorry.
  • What do you need?
Communication like this can prevent little hurts and misunderstandings from growing into a wedge between two people.  Tackling the little stuff before it becomes big stuff.  And dealing with the big stuff together, as a team, on the same side.  

I'm pretty good at that.

I think the next level of forgiveness is when someone does something that really hurts you.  They say something mean or horrible.  They promise to be there and then abandon you.  They ignore how you feel.  Or maybe they ignore you completely.  They do things that make you doubt your value.  They break promises.  They undercut your dreams and goals.  They don't try to understand your struggles. They lash out in anger.  They criticize or try to control you.  They hurt you.

This can be a struggle.  When do we forgive someone?  When do we create a boundary and say, "I won't give you the power to hurt me any more?" 

I believe that people hurt others because they are hurting themselves.  The cure for pain is love.  If it doesn't work, increase the dose.  When I am hurt, I tend to shut down, withdraw.  Maybe even pout a bit.  And certainly cuss.  But if the person is important to me, then I reach out.  I try to connect, to understand their pain.  And explain how I was hurt, why I was angry.

(Sidebar:  anger is a secondary emotion.  When we feel angry, if we dig a little deeper, we'll find that beneath the surface, hurt or fear is driving that anger.  We jump to anger because there's power there, and it feels less vulnerable to be angry than it does to feel scared or hurt.)

This is repair on a bigger scale.  Feel, connect, communicate.  Forgive.

I'm "okay" at this one.  Sometimes I withdraw too long.  Sometimes I just hope the other person will see that they've hurt me.  "They should know!" 

Sometimes, you have to make the decision to set a boundary.  To remove something/someone that is toxic to you.  When hurting you becomes a pattern for this person, it's time to evaluate whether you can continue to live with that, continue to forgive.  Sometimes the answer is no.  Sometimes for your own well-being, you have to decide not to allow that person into your life, into your head, into your heart.  

And you decide if you can forgive them or not.  I've had to do this.  Had to remove someone I love from my life.  And learn to forgive them.  I find it easier when I remember that they cause pain because they feel pain.  And maybe they're not ready to deal with it.  Maybe they won't ever be. I can't control that.  I can let it go.  And forgive them.  Some people just can't.  I can make peace with that, even if I can't always make peace with them.

And then, there's the line in the sand.

As I think about this, I realize that it's much easier for me to forgive those who have hurt me than it is to forgive those who hurt someone I love.

I completely lose all sense of reason.

Hurt my kids?  SLAM.

I have many places I feel I need to forgive someone.  But if it involves hurting my family?  I don't.  I just don't.  

Some of you will be nodding your heads.  "That's right.  Hurt my family and you're done."  "Cut them off, cut them out, don't look back."

I used to think this was okay.  That this was a sign of healthy boundaries, of self-protection.

I'm coming to realize that I still carry that resentment with me.  It burns in my gut like a hot coal. Pictures flashing through my mind.  Words echoing in my ears. Cementing the anger.  Over and over. Hardening the hurt.

And I think forgiveness is coming to some sort of peace.  Spitting out the hot coal rather than swallowing it.

In my head, I understand that this kind of forgiveness is not saying it's okay or I understand.  It's saying, "You hurt me or mine, but I let it go.  I refuse to let it continue to hurt or control me." It's releasing the hurt, the anger, the burning resentment.  Even if the person is not sorry.  Even if I won't ever trust or even deal with them again.  Because it's not about them. It's about me.

I'm bad at this one.

Because in my heart, I hold onto that hurt, that anger, like a talisman.  I take it out of my pocket like a worry stone and turn it over and over again in my mind.  I feel the rage rise up, hot in my chest, flushing my face, blood rushing, head pounding.

Maybe I have to stop using the word forgiveness here.  Maybe I can begin by thinking of it as letting go.  

Still working on it.

And there's another element - learning to forgive yourself.  This is the hardest of all.  I'm not sure I can even go there today.  Not sure I can even talk about that yet.  But in the spirit of transparency, I wanted to put it out there.  

Nothing echoes louder than my own mistakes.  The times I fell short.  The times I did something thoughtless.  The times I hurt or neglected someone.  The times I was unaware.  The times I did something out of spite or malice.  The times I reacted with anger or coldness when I had the chance to respond out of love.  The times I didn't shut my mouth when I should have. The times I blamed or judged.  The times I let down people who needed me.  The times I justified and rationalized and excused my own shortcomings.  The times I hurt someone.

Letting go of that stuff?  It's a bitch.

And the last level of forgiveness is forgiving when there isn't anyone or anything to forgive.
The things that happen when there isn't anyone to get mad at.  How do you release that?

Things like:  Dave having a brain tumor.  Kyle having a heart defect.  Kenny having autism.  Who in the world do you get mad at?  The universe?  God? Fate?  Karma? Life?  Yourself?

And how do you let go of that?  

Bad things happen.  And no.  There is NOT a reason. 
If you tell me everything happens for a reason, I will throat punch you. 
And then I'll have something else to forgive.
So don't say it.  Just don't say it.

Wow.  Angry much, Michelle?
Maybe a little.

And under all that rage,
Carrying a heavy load.

And then I think about the forgiveness we all receive from God.  How we learn that when God forgives us, it's like it never happened.  And we all want that, need that.  But how we refuse to give it to one another. How we refuse to release it, turn it over to Him, how we keep trying to manage it all ourselves.  Sigh.  

Work in progress.  That's me.  
I really thought I'd have it all figured out by the time I hit my 50s.  

The good news is it means I have more living, more learning to do.

Psalm 103:12 ESV
As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.


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