Letting go….some thoughts on forgiveness

“Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the
other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally
understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in
its own way and time.” ~ Sara Paddison

Forgiveness literally means giving completely, and implies freeing someone from debt or punishment, renouncing blame and resentment. Pretty complicated stuff I always thought. After all, we’re used to wrongdoers being held accountable and punished. To forgive when  it comes to serious acts kind of suggests overlooking the crime, ignoring justice, leaving a victim without compensation and empowering the wicked. Someone who hurts us (including ourselves) would be the last person we’d initially think of giving anything to, let alone completely. Of course there is the issue of intent, the absence of which does lighten matters, however, as we all know, following an accident, everyone’s insurance premiums go up.

Whenever we’re hurt, I find that it feels like we’ve been robbed…of peace, of trust, of self-confidence, of the time and effort we’re forced to invest in our recovery. We often even lose our optimism and hope, and end up traumatized and afraid for a long, long time. When we hurt someone else, we become the thieves…doubly so, because in addition to robbing another, we rob ourselves as well. And like I just said, when crimes are committed, the guilty party must pay. What was taken should be returned or compensated for. Balance should be restored and justice should prevail. After all, it is how our laws work.

Forgiveness comes pretty easily when something is (or promises to be) restored or mended, when we witness some level of sincere repentance (preferably on bended knee), an effort to make up for whatever injury (here’s a lifetime spa membership and that Gucci bag you always wanted), or when we ourselves get a chance to correct something in the present and future with some level of confidence in our ability to do a better job the second time around.

It’s not so easy to forgive when misunderstandings and hurtful behaviors persist, when closure can’t happen because a reasonable dialogue is refused (or else that someone we seek to forgive is no longer around) or when we’re facing consequences of our own actions that have a complete, and excruciating finality (ran over the squirrel in the driveway by accident or similar) for which an apology is insufficient to say the least.

Whenever I’ve struggled to forgive myself or someone else for whatever wrongdoings, I sank in a virtual tar pit of issues…anger, fear, resentment, depression, shattered self-confidence. I read all about how forgiveness is about love and implies both compassion and acceptance. Well, love is there by default if we’re even contemplating forgiveness, and even when it doesn’t seem to us that we truly love, at least we have compassion, which is a form of love. As for acceptance, that’s a bit more difficult to grasp, since it tends to get confused with approval, and the two decidedly don’t mix…they’re siblings, thus related, but they shouldn’t get married.

The advice on how to reach that point where we are able to forgive directs us to focus on working through the issues…which always makes me think of treadmills….and gerbils stuck in a cage, imagining they’re going somewhere if they run long enough on that plastic thingie that keeps spinning around. Working through issues does not necessarily lead to pleasant or positive conclusions about ourselves or others.

I realize I could put this in a prettier package…we’re all human, the sun shines on some meadow, a deity blesses and bestows, all is well with the world if we find enough love in our hearts, which we surely will with sufficient counseling, coaching, and by reading positive messages on our website of choice. But I’m in for the more brutal truth, or rather the naked one…which is that we’re all subject to some alarming bouts of weakness and outright stupidity, we all have our wide range of flaws which flare up on occasion in the most creative ways (or should I say destructive), and those around us may also have some really disturbing traits or tendencies which sometimes can’t be mitigated by their ‘good side’. Sometimes there is no justice, and being right means remaining a victim, entrenched in suffering, resentment and nursing a sense of profound loss which cripples our every move.

Forgiveness needs to happen, regardless of justice, compensation, understanding, reconciliation, or the seriousness of the ‘crime’ committed. Forgiveness is not about endorsing what is wrong, or building an arsenal of explanations for things that can never really be explained in a manner that makes them completely palatable. I’m sorry, but despite my romanticism, when it comes to forgiveness for really serious stuff, I cannot entertain the fantasy of always going for a Kodak moment loaded with love, closure, acceptance and renewed closeness. It may happen…but most of the time, it does not.
Forgiveness is about letting go of our sense of entitlement to blame, to resent, to expect some justice or compensation. Yes, it’s about giving completely to someone who may not deserve it. It’s about letting go, for no other reason than to once and for all get rid of a rotting mess that represents pain and waste and injustice, instead of rummaging through it over and over and over again, in the hope of somehow resurrecting the trash and transforming it into something fresh and beautiful.

There is only so far examining and ‘working through’ the issues can take us. Of course it helps, and we must express our emotions, as well as make sense of our experiences. But there is such a thing as dragging issues on a treadmill and working them out to the point of exhaustion, so that instead of healing we end up making ourselves sick…and then sicker.

It takes a lot of courage to let go…to take our pain and unfulfilled expectations, along with the why and the what ifs, pack them up and throw them away. This is why forgiveness for me is not so much about love, but about courage. And it is very much about acceptance in the absence of approval or real understanding for that matter.

I do see forgiveness as a gift. By forgiving, we’re finally giving ourselves and those who have hurt us a clean break. It’s not a matter of justice, or getting something back…it’s a matter of creating a clean space, disengaging from the negative instead of continuing to try and decorate it with explanations, or break it down by dissecting it. Forgiveness allows us to finally move forward and be free. We can sometimes build a really nice story around it all, and that’s fine, but the story isn’t necessary. And it’s important to remember that forgiveness is not only a singular act, but a habit, to be learned and practiced at all times.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Hope says:

    Forgiveness can be a gift we give ourselves, anger can be exhausting. I read this quote recently and loved it.
    “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis Smedes
    Your post is very powerful. I find that forgiveness, like grief can be in layers. We can let go of one thing, but another takes more time.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I know that quote, and it’s so true. I agree with you on the layers, and have been reading your posts (comment on the last one to follow 🙂 which are always inspiring. My problem is that sometimes we get lost in the layers…I certainly have, and the only solution to that is to just let go. But it isn’t easy, nor is it instantaneous…because something always triggers the past when we’re least prepared, and there we are digging our way through layers again. Which is why I also believe letting go needs to become a habit…less effort each time, less struggle.

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  2. losing bee says:

    i’ve been struggling with the definition of forgiveness for a long while now…and i love your take on it…great post for my head 🙂

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  3. Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful. 🙂

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  4. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I have just recently a found myself in a situation where this applies and I agree that it is a gift and does take a LOT of courage.

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  5. Girl, you know I love you and you know (at least you should by now) that you are an intelligent, courageous, honest, and absolutely beautiful woman. We both know how difficult it is to forgive because it causes pain and it pains us to stop hating because we are succumbing to the fact that it did happen, that we have been dishonored in some way, and that we can’t wake up tomorrow and see that it was all a dream. Forgiveness is something we need to do for ourselves. In order for us to move forward, to be able to move on with our lives, we must forgive. Certainly not approve, but accept what has happened. It’s a long, painful, irritating, and downright dirty process…to forgive that is. But we both also know that once we do get through this process, once we are finally able to forgive and move on we free ourselves, we become stronger, and we become a better version of ourselves.

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