Forgive Us Our Trespasses…
I believe in forgiveness – in theory, anyway. Real life has been another story. In the past when someone wronged me, I didn’t stick around to wonder why he or she did what they did or what role, if any, I may have played in the whole affair – I cut my losses and walked away. No fights, no recriminations; I just shelved the pain and moved on cutting that person out of my life entirely.
While this approach has given me the quiet life I’ve wanted, I’ve lost some important relationships along the way. Relationships I wonder about now. Could the rift have been repaired? Could we have moved on?
Though we are all taught to forgive, it’s not so easy to do. Most of us want our pound of flesh. We want to see that the other person has suffered as much as we have before we forgive; we want to know they are sorry for what they did. But what happens when they aren’t sorry? Or they haven’t suffered?
That’s the first rub because forgiveness can never be about what the other person thinks or feels or even wants. It’s about not letting those feelings control your life.
And here’s the second rub, even if you are able to forgive, it doesn’t automatically bring peace. At any moment the old pain can and often does return – as powerful in its intensity as the day it happened. Yet, if you have forgiven someone, you are required to face this pain and then let it go. That doesn’t come easily to most of us.
Often, it seems, the path to forgiveness is a long journey. It may take years before you’re even ready to say the words. Sometimes it requires that you to live your life until you’ve accidentally stepped into the shoes of the person who has wronged you. Forgiving our parents, it seems to me, often falls into this category.
For much of my adulthood I saw my father through the eyes of a frightened child. That he died when I was in my twenties didn’t change a thing. He still loomed large in my life and his strict Edwardian ways haunted my every step. Only when I became a parent myself did things begin to change. Little light bulbs started going off in my head as I watched myself struggle year after year against becoming my father. To stem that tide of shock, I tried to understand why I was choosing to act the way I did. And that invariably led me to ask why my father had chosen to behave the way he had. These questions, in turn, led me to my mother who began telling me things about my father I hadn’t known before. I gradually stopped seeing my father through the eyes of that child and began to see him as the complicated individual he was. My new understanding didn’t alter the things that he had done or the cruelty behind them, but it did bring a desire to let go of the anger and fear that had dogged me my entire life.
Add to this puzzle my son and we come full circle; for it was my son who taught me how to forgive. No matter how many times I made a mess of things as he was growing up, my son always gave me another chance. The hurt I saw in his eyes was both my punishment and my salvation. My punishment because I knew I was leaving him with a memory of pain that could never be erased. My salvation because with each chance he gave me came a deeper desire on my part to become the parent I knew I could be; to be worthy of the love he was showing me. Eventually, my son’s compassion rubbed off on me and I found my heart opening to my father. Forgiveness jarred something in my heart….and like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas I found it growing in size.
We are not perfect. Our lives are a jumble of the good, the bad and the ugly. We make mistakes; sometimes huge mistakes that seem unforgivable. Yet, if we can learn to forgive ourselves and if others can forgive us, it starts a whole new chain of events. Forgiveness is, I have slowly learned, something for which it is well worth turning over a new leaf.