Forgiveness has been on my mind lately.
You see, I’m not very good at it.
I wrote a ridiculously long blog post about it yesterday — one that was more like an extended self-therapy session. No one in her right mind wants to read it. Trust me on that one. But here’s the crux:
We humans are broken for many reasons. We all have brokenness. Hurt people hurt other people. Thus, there is a lot of room for forgiveness.
I think we often hurt each other unknowingly, unintentionally. Because sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to reach out to others, to offer them a kind word, a helping hand, a moment of understanding or companionship. We rush, rush, rush to the next task, and sometimes we leave those we love most in our frenzied wake.
It hurts to feel disposable and disregarded. It’s painful for everyone. It is, in fact, my greatest Achilles Heel. I’ve always said that if someone would just say, “I’m sorry I hurt you, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me, I’m sorry I misunderstood,” I could move on.
As humans, in general, I don’t think we’re very good at forgiveness. I’m the line leader of the Not Good At Forgiving Club. My unwillingness to fully forgive is never about revenge — I’m not an intentional hurter and am almost always willing to let someone back into my life. My forgiveness failings are instead about holding on to past transgressions… just in case I might need them as ammunition later.
My brand of forgiveness has often looked like this: A shoe full of rocks, upturned and emptied, but with a single pebble remaining, rubbing and reminding.
That’s not really forgiveness. That’s moving forward… with a grudge in my pocket, with an elephant brain that grasps the past instead of focusing on the beauty and opportunity of the moment.
I vacillate between wanting to forgive wholly and wanting to protect myself from future harm. I think most of us do. Self-preservation is part of our human nature. But forgiveness doesn’t work that way. It’s an all or nothing prospect, really. Either you do it or you don’t. Halfway just leaves that pebble rubbing at your heel until it cracks and bleeds.
My wise friend, Amy, said last night, “I don’t think forgiveness is a ‘one time’ prospect. I think it happens moment by moment.” She couldn’t have spoken words truer to my heart. Once I’ve forgiven someone, I need to keep reminding myself of it, to continue to let the pain of the past go when it rears its ugly head. It does no good to build my arsenal of grievances to use later, to serve as evidence. That is always about me, about self-protection, about making my case.
And forgiveness, at its core, is not about our own selfish needs. It is about others. It is about grace.
One of the most moving documentaries I’ve ever seen is called “Fambul Tok.” It’s the story of a grass-roots human reconciliation project post the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone. Women forgiving men who raped them, a man who murdered his best friend’s father… Unspeakable acts of violence and pain, forgiven — human by human. It stuck with me, this one. If they can forgive such grievous crimes, why can I not forgive hurt feelings and broken promises?
And why wouldn’t I want to? Holding grudges is holding on to fear, and fear is not where I want to exist. And withholding forgiveness is its own form of self-destruction. That dark unhappiness nibbles away at your soul, erodes your inner peace.
Some people who hurt us grievously no longer deserve to be in our lives. And that’s okay. Forgiveness doesn’t mean going back for more, it means having the strength to keep walking, no backwards glances, no what ifs. As difficult as goodbyes are (and they are exceptionally tough for me), sometimes they’re necessary. We can forgive them, and we also can let them go. But when we let them go, we need to Let Them Go — Idina Menzel-style.
And the ones who stay? They deserve every broken and human part of us — just as we deserve every broken and human part of them. All in.
If I want to be forgiven, I must first forgive. It’s simple, really. So beautifully uncomplicated.
According to Gandhi, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
My head and heart wholeheartedly believe it. The rest of me is trying — second by second — to catch up.
The incomparable Mark Twain had this to say: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
I’m striving to be the violet. Wholeheartedly, unabashedly, no strings attached. I used to think my life would be complete if I could sing onstage with Dave Matthews or write a NYT bestseller, but I think my ultimate goals might need to be revisited.
It’s this. Just this.
My new mantra…
Be the Violet.