Forgiveness. This one word elicits so many questions. How do you forgive? How do you know you have forgiven someone? Why do you have to forgive? Why can’t you just take your heartache and hurt and never look back? Does forgiving mean forgetting?
Forgiveness is a process. It is not easy, and it does not happen immediately. It is something that some of us want and others blatantly reject. But most certainly, it is something that many of us do not understand. It does not always come naturally for us because sometimes we get stuck holding onto things. We replay memories and conversations we would like to have with the person who hurt us over and over in our heads. Our minds become like an audio track on repeat. Forgiving someone IS difficult, and you can probably think of reasons not to forgive and why this person does not deserve your forgiveness. I am sure if you told me what happened I would agree- they don’t deserve forgiveness. But here’s the thing… they may not deserve forgiveness, but you deserve to be free.
Forgiveness has little to nothing to do with the wrongdoer. Forgiveness has to do with the one who has been wronged. Forgiveness is for you. Forgiveness sets you free. Free from your pain. Free from your past.
Forgiveness means no longer needing anything from the wrongdoer in your life. You no longer need the wrong to be made right, an apology, an explanation. The wrongdoer and that hurt no longer have power in your life. You forgive because you are hurt, because you are wounded, and because you want to be free.
From my experience, it seems a lot of people are resistant to forgiveness because they misunderstand what it is and what it isn’t. These misconceptions and mistruths can keep us locked in bitterness and resentment that threaten to take over our lives and relationships.
What is the truth about forgiveness? The truth is…
Forgiveness does not excuse someone’s actions or imply that what she did was not a big deal. Forgiveness is a big deal so by forgiving someone you are “saying” to her that what she did was so significant that only forgiveness can set you free. If something weren’t a big deal, then you wouldn’t need to be free from it. Forgiveness involves acknowledging and admitting the depth of your pain and the parties responsible for that pain.
Forgiveness is not a means to avoid conflict. True forgiveness does not involve stuffing your feelings or ignoring your hurt in an effort to keep the peace. This is denial, and it never works. Saying you forgive someone as a way to brush pain under the rug only plants seeds of resentment that later strangle the life out of your relationships.
Forgiveness is not tolerance. I can forgive you and even wish you well in life, but your behavior may have reached the point where I can no longer tolerate or accept it in my life. We can forgive things that we can no longer tolerate, and we can tolerate things that we never forgive. The first brings healing while the latter only brings continued hurt into our lives.
Forgiveness does not wipe out the need for justice or consequences. You can forgive someone and still allow him to experience the consequences of his actions. Forgiveness does not wipe out the need for justice, and the presence of justice does not automatically create a spirit of forgiveness. You are giving that person continued power in your life if you are waiting for justice to occur before you begin the process of forgiveness. He is determining whether you are free, not you.
Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Forgiveness is a process that happens within you- it is intrapersonal- and it is not dependent on the other person. Reconciliation is interpersonal- it requires two people. Reconciliation requires forgiveness on your part and a commitment to and demonstration of behavior change on the other person’s part. You can have forgiveness without reconciliation, but you cannot have reconciliation without forgiveness and change.
A life of un-forgiveness is like a life kept in bondage, and forgiveness is the key to the locked door. You are hurt and angry, and you have every right to be. What happened was unfair and unexpected, and it would be so easy for you to hold onto that hurt and anger like a shield of armor. You cannot force yourself to forgive if you are not ready, but you can slowly loosen your grip on all that pain and let Light begin to enter into that dark place. That Light brings the healing, strength, and courage you need to begin stepping out of that prison of hurt. Forgiveness does not change the past; it separates and frees us from our past.
That person may not deserve forgiveness, but you deserve to be free.
In what area of your life do you need to experience freedom today? What hurt would you like to begin letting go of?
Several years ago, my husband and I drove to New Orleans to attend my cousin’s wedding. For whatever reason, we did not have anyone to pet-sit our beloved miniature dachshund, Lucy, so she joined us on our venture south. While driving to NOLA, we decided to stop by “the loveliest village on the plains.” My husband is a proud graduate of Auburn, and over the years, I have adopted his alma mater and its spirited traditions with great enthusiasm. Obviously, I could not resist stopping for some priceless photo ops of Lucy at some of the famous Auburn landmarks. We parked our car and let Lucy walk around the manicured grounds of Samford Hall while I wildly snapped pictures.
At this point in our story you should know one unique fact about Lucy: she is terrified of cars. She is so terrified of cars that she actually refuses to go on walks and hates being anywhere near moving traffic. Cars and busy streets are Lucy’s kryptonite.
As much as I was enjoying our family outing, poor Lucy was having a mild anxiety attack as cars were whizzing past her on College Street. Eventually we decided to walk back to the car, and knowing Lucy would have none of crossing the four lanes of traffic, I picked her up and started walking across the street. Lucy trembled and shook with every step across the street, and I leaned down and said, “Lucy, it is okay. I am not going to let anything happen to you.” As I said that, I realized my perspective of what was going on was very different from Lucy’s.
Lucy stands about eight inches off the ground. This is what the world looks like to Lucy…
With her four-inch legs, she feels every vibration and rumble. Wheels are huge and cars are so big they take up her entire sightline. Everything seems gigantic and overpowering. Everything seems intimidating.
By contrast, this is what I saw that day…
I could see much further. My viewpoint was much different. I could see farther down the road, if trouble was coming, and when it was going to pass. My perspective made it very easy for me to trust and believe that we were safe. Lucy’s perspective, on the other hand, was limited and narrow.
As we crossed the street, I thought how often am I like Lucy. How often are we all like Lucy? We only see what is right before our eyes, and it seems intimidating and scary. We feel totally overwhelmed by what we are facing, and sometimes we are sure it is going to overtake us. We fear being trapped and doomed to permanently reside in this place of uncertainty.
How often do we forget that we are not alone in our journey? How often do we try to rely on our own shortsighted vision and strength? It is so easy to be consumed with worry and fear. It is so easy to forget there is a bigger picture, a larger vision for our life that we cannot fully imagine. It is so easy to forget we are not alone, and we will not be left in our troubled, fearful state. Lo, I am with you always…
Your current heartache, although deeply painful, is a portion of your picture, but it is not the entire portrait of your life. You were not created to reside in the valley of your troubles; you were created to pass through the valley.
What would it be like today to trust that there is a bigger picture for your life that you cannot yet see?
How would your life be different if you believed you are not alone on this journey?
How would that type of hope change your life?
I have never been big on clubs. They simply have never appealed to me until I came upon a club that kept denying me membership. There is one club that no matter how much you want to be in it, no matter how hard you try to join, membership is determined by one sole requirement: The Motherhood Club.
Several years ago, my husband and I spent Mother’s Day with his parents. At brunch, I noticed we were the only group in the restaurant without children. I immediately became keenly aware of the absence at our table, and I leaned over to ask my husband if he thought people thought it was odd there were no children at our table. He looked at me matter-of-factly, smiled, and said that he doubted anyone was giving us that much thought. I welcomed his loving dose of reality.
Dr. Brené Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me, says motherhood is a sensitive topic for women, whether they have children or not, because we often believe that motherhood is “inextricably bound” to our sense of what it means to be a woman. She goes on to state that motherhood, and everything having to do with it, is one of the top shame (aka feeling not good enough) triggers for women. It is so easy for motherhood to become a determining factor of our worth as a woman. It is so easy for the number of children we have or what they are doing or not doing to become a grading scale we use to measure ourselves.
That Mother’s Day, I felt every ounce of emotion that comes when you find yourself on the outside of The Motherhood Club trying to get in. As I sat at that brunch, I felt self-conscious and inadequate. I felt the whole restaurant could see what I wasn’t talking about and so desperately wanted to not be true: we couldn’t get pregnant. Over the course of our infertility journey, I waded through all sorts of feelings- disappointment, frustration, confusion, envy. I feared being left… being left with this mixture of sadness and resentment… being left behind. I wondered why it was so easy for some and so difficult for others. I wondered why I had to be in the latter category.
The Motherhood Club is an interesting one. The membership form has so many questions: When? Why? Why not? How many? It seems most, if not all, women wrestle with these questions. For some, the answers come easily. For others, the answers come after a long inner debate. And still for others, they don’t get to decide the answers at all. Whether you always knew you wanted to have children, you chose not to have children, or circumstances out of your control chose for you, motherhood touches each of us differently, and the journey is filled with a dizzying array of emotions.
Even once you become a mother, the questions and fears do not automatically subside. There are now new concerns and ponderings. Am I good mother? Am I making the right choices for my child? How do I protect my child without being overprotective? How do I know if I am messing up?
My hope for you this Mother’s Day is that wherever you are in this journey, you will give yourself the space and Grace to be there. If this is your first Mother’s Day and you are wondering how it’s possible to feel excited, grateful, tired, and overwhelmed all at the same time, give yourself the space and grace to feel all of those emotions. If this Mother’s Day you are experiencing a particularly difficult season of motherhood filled with many questions and concerns and heartache, give yourself the space and grace to feel all of that. Or perhaps this Mother’s Day you are wrestling and wondering if you will ever be a mother, and this annual marker only reminds you of what you do not have. Wherever you are and whatever you are feeling, give yourself the permission to experience every ounce of that sadness, disappointment, joy, frustration, or gratitude.
But regardless if you have made your decision regarding motherhood or if you are still waiting for an answer, I hope you will remember the following:
Our worth as women is not determined by how we answer the question “Do you have children?” Our worth as women is determined by something greater and more innate. We are natural nurturers whether we have children or not. We are natural creators whether we reproduce or not. We bring beauty and life to all we touch. Motherhood is a part of being a woman, and motherhood might be part of your journey. But whether or not you are a mother does not determine your place at the table of love, belonging and worthiness. If you have zero children or if you have a dozen, your worth as a woman remains the same. You are a beautiful creation put here to fulfill a unique role and purpose. May you find comfort and freedom in that truth. May you rest in that blessed assurance.
Brown, Brené, Ph.D., LMSW. (2007). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t). New York: Gotham Books.
Whenever I keep hearing about the same thing from several different people, I know that means I need to check it out. Over the past week I have been hearing about this new song by Sara Bareilles called BRAVE. People have told me that I will love it and that it is right up my alley, and, boy, were they right! It. is. awesome. It fits so well with our theme this week of facing our fears and breaking out of our comfort zone that I just had to share it.
There are so many things in our lives that confine us and silence us. Finding your voice and holding on to it is not work for the faint of heart. Discovering and embracing the real you takes daily practice. It is SO much easier to stick with the known. It is less risk to remain quiet. It is more comfortable to keep things small. But what if you stopped doing what you’ve always done? What if you spoke up? What if you tried something different? What if you stepped out on faith? What if you were BRAVE?
So here is our anthem for this week. Listen to it. Turn the volume all the way up. Dance. Sing along. You won’t regret it! 🙂
You can do this. You can be BRAVE! Show everyone how BIG your BRAVE is!
In case you missed it, click here for the link.
I love quotes. I collect them like some people collect coins or shells. A few months ago I stumbled across a magnet with the following on it:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Now I know nothing about sailing, and even had to look up what a bowline was (it is a special loop knot, by the way), but I love this image. I love the idea of casting off and sailing away from the harbor. Part of me would love to be that person who throws off the bowlines, but that part often does battle with my other self: the one who loves the safe harbor, who relishes the known, who doesn’t mind the Comfort Zone. Because, truth be told, the Comfort Zone is… well… comfortable.
We all have a Comfort Zone. The Comfort Zone is attractive because it is known; it feels within our control. If I stay here, nothing bad will happen to me. I won’t fail. I won’t mess up. No one will laugh at me. The Comfort Zone is our protection. At least, this is what we tell ourselves.
But what happens when we want to break out of our Comfort Zone? What happens when we are forced out of our Comfort Zone? What happens when our life path takes us to the farthest reaches of our Comfort Zone? What happens then?
We run into a wall.
As we move closer to the edge of our Comfort Zone, we realize there is a wall blocking our exit. There are images and messages scribbled on this wall. The images depict what we are afraid will happen if we leave our Comfort Zone. The messages are what we tell ourselves to keep our dreams and plans small. As we draw closer, we realize this isn’t any ordinary wall. It is the canvas for our anxiety and self-doubt. It is our own personal Wall of Fear.
Standing at our Wall of Fear, we are faced with two options. We can turn around and retreat back into our Comfort Zone. We can return to the safe harbor and the known and predictable. We can try to forget what we saw on that Wall and convince ourselves that we are retreating out of choice and desire, not out of distress. To ensure that we never have to see that Wall again, we make our Comfort Zone smaller and smaller. If we can control more and predict more, then we won’t have to feel afraid. At least, this is what we tell ourselves.
OR we can break through our Wall of Fear.
Breaking through our Wall of Fear does not mean those fears suddenly vanish. Breaking through our Wall of Fear means we take hold of the Courage being extended to us. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is acting in spite of that fear. The Courage is there for the taking. It is there for us to seize. Like manna in the desert, we trust we will be given the courage we need for the day ahead and we step out. Breaking through our Wall of Fear means we no longer choose to be defined and contained by the messages scribbled on that Wall. It means we embrace the possibility of failure and criticism and hardship and, yes, even success (sometimes that is just as scary as failure) rather than running in the other direction. It means we choose Freedom over Fear.
Once you break through your Wall of Fear, you soon realize that life is a series of Comfort Zones and Walls that need breaking down. After all, that is how you become the person you were created to be. You keep throwing off the bowlines. You keep sailing away from the safe harbor.
What is scribbled on your Wall of Fear?
You can retreat or you can move ahead. The choice is yours. What are you going to choose today?