The Prompt: Share a story where it was very difficult for you to forgive the perpetrator for wronging you, but you did it — you forgave them.
So – wow. This is a very difficult question to address.
Forgiveness is not my strong suit. I’m more of a ‘let’s pretend everything is okay’ type – but I don’t forgive or forget easily. Hence, my post on why I detest superficial kissing/hugging situations. I hold my share of grudges, imagined or real, and I am grievously wounded by perceived betrayal. Oh my, such intense language.
It is hard to forgive. I can’t stand when someone says “I’m sorry that you are mad at me” and doesn’t even verbalize much less understand the reason for my anger/dismay/disappointment/hurt. If you don’t understand why I am angry, that’s one thing. If you simply reject any personal culpability because you don’t believe I should be angry, that’s another. Not having your feelings validated adds fuel to the fire. But you can forgive someone and not engage them. That’s the tricky part – forgiveness doesn’t have to mean we are best buddies again.
The person I am least likely to forgive is myself, so I have done a nice job the past few years of building up very sturdy walls to keep people out once I feel they are not my ally or friend. If I can’t build up my own resiliency, I can avoid having it further depleted. That’s has had it’s good and bad points, obviously. It is lonely and isolated, but it has given me a chance to work on my resiliency. And to realize that there are many of us who simply can’t “just get over it” as we are often advised by well-intentioned, but exasperated people. But that’s another blog post.
The person I have been able to forgive was the man who raped me. I’m not “over it” so to speak, but I have enough perspective and distance from that event to recognize that holding on to the hurt and violation is not good for me. I believe that he regretted it, but I have no idea if he understood that he did rape me or took action to change. And that’s something I can live with now.
It sounds flippant to say that wasn’t the worst violation I experienced, but in fact it was a catalyst that led to me to explore how I ended up in that position. It is the people who violated me prior to that whom I have trouble forgiving. Most of them are dead. That doesn’t make it any easier. But as I type this, I realized that I truly have forgiven him and have to work on forgiving those who came before.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel says to the terrified shepherds watching over flocks. “Peace on earth” has come among us. “Good will to all.” (Luke 2: 9,14)
Peace on earth begins with me. Good will is something I can offer, even if I’m faking it. That’s how we build resiliency in part – kindness and goodwill to others. Forgiveness can be a gift.
The message of Christmas for me this year is more connected to a Biblical tradition than to the modern Charles Dickens vision. It is not about faking it through family gatherings and pretending all is well – but then again, I never read A Christmas Carol as an interpersonal story, but as a morality play. It was far more important that Ebeneezer raised Bob Cratchett’s salary and improved his working conditions and benefits like health insurance than giving him a goose – the goose was just a symbol.
Forgiveness is a gift, a gift that requires work and energy and effort. When we forgive, we reap the rewards of that work and contribute a little to peace on earth by letting that bit of enmity go. Still, it has been two thousand years and few seem to have mastered that gift.
Let’s keep on trying.