I’ve grappled with the true meaning of forgiveness for a long time.
The truth is, in my 35 years of life, I’ve rarely been in a situation where I’ve had to learn. Or at least that’s what I thought…
As I came to discover, I just wasn’t ready to forgive to the extent I was now being called forth to do, and when I opened this can of worms I had to confront everything awaiting forgiveness in my life.
The thing is, forgiveness baggage creeps up slowly and when it goes unexamined we start getting in trouble…
As I found out, when we ignore these subtle messages long enough, the universe usually has its way to get our attention fast.
Recently, I was so stopped on my tracks that I knew I had to meet forgiveness in the eye.
How else was I going to get unstuck from the heart-piercing feelings of betrayal I was swimming in? How was I going get rid of the rage that flooded me unannounced? How was I going to shed the wild thoughts of revenge running through me?
To make things worse, it’s not something I could run away from as it was happening with someone important in my family.
It hadn’t been the first time I’d felt betrayed either.
The truth is, when someone truly lets us down, especially when we feel like we’ve given so much and tried everything, it feels like a true kick in the guts. The kind that makes you physically ill.
The rage I felt took over, on and off for a few days, but in truth, it had been brewing for months, maybe even years…
My throat was tight, temperature up and down, thoughts running wild – I carried this sinking feeling in my stomach.
When I tried to breathe into my rage, sadness would take over. The kind that makes you fall apart and want to give up.
The thing that got me the most was the feeling of hopelessness and the bitterness it left all over my body, no end in sight.
Inside this bottomless pit of resentment, I could only see a way out. I’d either withdraw my love and punish them slowly, with a touch of superiority, for what they’d done or I would lash out, pour out my rage, sacrifice that special connection and carry the weight of the wounds with me forever.
That’s when I saw that I knew nothing about forgiveness. I only knew either to show understanding, give people a million chances hoping they’d change and let them walk all over me, or wish them well and simply cut them off. But because it was someone in my family I was forced to find another way.
I also know that my commitment to live an extraordinary life would only let me wallow in this mud for so long.
So I started looking for answers, hoping to learn how to forgive in a way that I could move forward with power, connection and a sense of peace.
In perfect universal order, a few days into my new book, Freedom Seeker, by Beth Kempton, I found this: “Forgiveness is not about reconciliation with the offender or condoning what they have done. It’s simply letting go of your response to an action against you. It is a declaration that you are not going to allow yourself to be weighed down by the impact of what someone else has done. It is a gift to yourself. It is grace. Letting go of the desire for revenge or anger, or any other heavy response, isn’t easy. But if you can find a way to forgive, you find yourself lighter and uplifted.”
This made a lot of sense and gave me access to a new perspective, but it was far from easy.
I started with gathering the courage to tell the truth of what my response to my situation had been until that point. After digging deep, many aha moments followed.
The first was that the anger I was feeling was towards myself mainly. Deep down, I thought it was my fault things ended up the way they did, and that if somehow I had done something differently, everything would have turned out better. The second was that the sadness flooding me came from the deep disappointment of what had been done to me, but primarily from the exhaustion of trying to fix myself and the situation and that, ultimately, despite all that effort, something bad happened anyway.
Then something even bigger opened up.
When things work out for the worst, despite my commitment to something great, my instant response is to desperately try and fix them and myself. I analyse my steps to death, blame, blame, blame, then fix, fix, fix, because this kind of control gives me a small wave of relief.
But here’s the problem. I can forever find things to fix, which only leaves me feeling broken, with no space for true forgiveness and for truly moving on, killing joy along the way and poisoning myself with resentment.
An even bigger realisation was that this reaction to life, so familiar and so depleting, was itself born out of my unwillingness to forgive myself and my past. All the hurts, all the judgements and all the unfinished business I’ve been carrying with me most of my life – this was just another version of it to force me to learn to forgive.
Now that the cards were on the table and I could see things clearly, I started asking different questions – in my heart I wanted to find a response that was truly going to honour me, the situation and my family.
As I dwelled in the questions and found the answers slowly and gently, healing started taking place and true power was coming back to me.
If there was nothing to fix, what was there to do? Where had my reaction been based on fear instead of love? Wherever the answer was fear, I focused on love, moment by moment. I kept looking and looking and looking, and loving, and loving, and loving.
And as love slowly started taking the place of fear, I felt myself able to breathe, be myself again and find joy slowly.
An important revelation was that love in action, like forgiveness, can sometimes look very different from our fantasies about it. For me, it meant holding my ground, standing in my beliefs, trading the eggshells for healthy boundaries, with consequences in place if they’re crossed. Not from a place of revenge, but rather a place of peace and respect for myself and what I want to create for my family, in the face of an unpredictable reaction. It also meant being prepared to let someone special go, again from a place of love, if that’s what they chose to do in the face of my power – this is, without a doubt, the hardest part.
This is not easy work, but the peace that comes with it is not something I want to live without, now that I got a taste of it.
But just when I thought the work was done, I came across another definition of forgiveness by Oprah Winfrey, which completely blew me away. “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.”
I had to let that sit for a while and ask more questions. How could we not wish the painful aspects of our past had been different? Should we be given another chance, how could we honestly choose to keep the abuse we witnessed, the betrayals, the hurt, the times we felt violated, so deeply heartbroken?
Then I remembered; life doesn’t happen that way. There is no chance to start over. This IS how life has unfolded. And fantasising about it being any other way is refusing to live in the present and distrusting the flow of life. We sentence ourselves to slowly die inside and kill off life’s beauty, one little resentful thought at a time.
Of course nobody wishes pain on anyone, let alone ourselves. That’s not what this means. Yet, for every ounce of pain we’ve experienced and overcame, there was something precious we got to take away, maybe not straight away, but over time. Our growth was born out of it and served the people around us in many ways too.
If we truly look past the cliché, the universe delivers valuable lessons with every situation. When we stop resisting the circumstances under which the messages are delivered (because they don’t match our fantasy), on the other side of it there’s always something to be grateful for, even if it takes us many years to join the dots together.
Through my pain I’ve learned to let go more, love myself more, trust more and be connected. None of which would have happened growing up in the comfort of a perfect family home, full of perfect relationships and things turning out the way I wanted them to.
Because, if I look back enough, every single time, the universe had a much better plan for me. Especially when it least seemed so…