Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man with great depth of character and no stranger to pain. Yet he rose above the pain, rose above the hate and kept moving forward. Why would I choose to open with MLK Jr.? I see him as a great human being who had a dream that one day we would all choose love and stop hating each other. That our broken relationships between man and woman, black and white, gay and straight, native and nonnative would one day heal.
In my mind he is a modern day saint, someone who did not give into hate and was one of our greatest leaders on the journey to healing our nation, one city at a time. He must have forgiven, often.
“Father forgive them for they know not what they do..” Jesus - Luke 23:34
When you hear the word forgiveness what comes to mind? For me, I had to try very hard to forgive. I held onto so much pain that my heart was hardened, I was holding onto anger and I was only hurting myself, no one else. I’ve heard many people in divorce recovery over the years say, “I’ve already forgiven him (her)”, only for them to discover several weeks into the program that indeed they have not forgiven. Forgiveness is a process of letting go. Letting go of control, letting go of past hurt, past deceptions, etc.. Letting go and disentangling ourselves from the other person is the hardest thing to do.
Why is letting go so difficult?
"This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man." For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed…” Genesis 2:23-25
When you took your vows to be with your spouse (until death do you part) that was a big deal! And it is a really big deal in God’s eyes. Big deal in God’s eyes translated means; Sacrament. I am being a bit cheeky but that’s me. Even if you take wedding vows in a park, or on a beach, you are making a lifelong commitment. That is hard to let go of. I am not trying to put guilt or shame on you, this was a reality that I needed to come to grips with as I began the healing process. I needed to admit that this was a commitment I had made, and had to break. That’s not easy. I did promise God that I would love, honor and cherish my spouse/s. I thought I meant it. But for me, at that time in my life, what I meant was, “Oh please will someone, love me, honor me, cherish me!”
So when we look at forgiveness we must look at all the areas that are in need of forgiveness. Or as I like to say, healing. Below is a scenario to help you understand the burden of holding onto anger, hurt and pain, and not letting go.
Imagine carrying a large canvas backpack. Your going to place a large rock in the backpack, one that you can’t quite pick up with one hand. Imagine doing this two or three times. Imagine that each rock represents some pain that you have ignored, or shame that you carry around, a mistake you made, or how about a crappy job where you were treated badly. The burden of carrying one or two rocks doesn’t seem like that big of deal. But each time you ignore something painful in life and place it inside the backpack, the load gets heavier. You have voluntarily labeled each one of these rocks you cary. The rock of sibling rivalry, the rock of blame, the rock of shame, the rock of crappy jobs, the rock of bad relationships, the rock of poor choices, etc, etc. How many rocks have you labeled already and how long have you been carrying these around? Quite a burden isn’t it? Now add divorce, being a single parent, worry, fear.. The list goes on. And the burdens grow heavier.
This is what we do when we hang onto unhealed pain, when we decide to not forgive others or ourselves and when we choose to not heal but keep stuffing “rocks” into our backpacks.
The more anger I tried to suppress, the worse I felt. I held my life captive by being unforgiving. I was a prisoner to my own pain and anger. For me the forgiveness had to begin with my dad. He was an alcoholic and there were many, many painful memories from my childhood. And as sure as the sun rises in the east, I went looking for the love I was missing. And as the song goes, it was in all the wrong places.
As soon as I opened the doors to forgiveness the path to freedom became clear. When I did that, my initial burdens and pain were gone. I had to release who my dad was at that time, and forgive his anger, his impatience, and his injustices because he too had a past. A past that controlled him for many years. I prayed a lot, still do. Forgiveness comes in layers. If it took me years to pile up the hurt feelings then I needed to be patient enough to work through those layers. Not alone, never alone! But with God. I trusted in the Holy Spirit to send me the gifts I needed such as; courage, patience, peace, self-control. I needed to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable to forgiveness opened up many new doors for me. And as Brene’ Brown states in her book, Daring Greatly; “it takes courage to be vulnerable.”
The result of the work I did (and continue to do) means that I am able to forgive the men in my life who didn’t know how to love me. Those men who hurt me.
I take responsibility for the fact that I chose men who had no skills in loving another person. I was a fixer and I had a need to be in a relationship where the man was a “fixer-upper project”. I thought I had control by finding and being with men who were projects. No one, I found out, can fix another person. The only fixing we can do is on ourselves and then, I had to forgive myself. Forgiveness doesn’t work unless you forgive yourself. If you need to fix things find a hobby like fixing broken furniture, the results are quick and there are no complaints or fighting back from the furniture.
Take some time to think about the word forgiveness
I would like to invite you now to make some notes for yourself..
Name the things that are easy for you to forgive:
What are the more difficult things for you to forgive?
Are there things in your life that you feel you can’t forgive?
Take some time to identify the rocks you have placed in your backpack and list them here:
Take some time to allow God to love the person you were when you placed them there..
Who do you need to forgive? (let go)
As you ponder forgiveness in the days ahead;
“God grant me the serenity to Accept the things I cannot change, The Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”