While I was looking around for gifts for father’s day today, I asked my son what he wanted to get for his grandpa. And he said camping stuff. I decided that sounded as good as any ideas I had, even though I think the last (and only) time we camped I was around 10 years old. Nonetheless, my dad had promised to take all of the grandkids camping this summer, and well, what better encouragement is there? So we were going down the aisles and looking for stuff, and Jack kept picking out things that were really big and would be heavy and hard to carry. I started talking to him about the importance of traveling light, and although he was able to make a pretty good argument for bringing a bike to ride on so they could carry extra stuff, it wouldn’t be enough stuff for the kayak and scooter he wanted to bring along as well. I tried to explain that sometimes it’s important to remember that we just need the essentials to get by, because when we have too much, it weighs us down. Then I realized that’s what I would write about today!
The concept applies so well to life. It’s so easy to get bogged down by everything that we carry with us, that we forget how nice and light and easy it is to travel without all the junk. Whether we are harboring fear, worry, unforgiveness, bitterness, jealousy, anxiety – all of those negatives have a tendency to weigh us down. When we get upset and end up at a dead end in life, it’s really hard to turn around and see that there’s another path – or even a way over the wall – when we are walking our path with too much weight. If we are having to drag ourselves through life, we will end up with a whole lot more scars and bruises than we will if we are able to walk upright, and run and jump and turn around where necessary.
We all hit walls. We all have bumps in our roads. We are broken down by the streets that are covered by the things that are trying to hold us back and stop us from moving. If we want to get anywhere worth getting to, we have to do so without all of the negative weighing us down. We have to feel freedom and be light on our feet. Quick to think, to see ways out. It’s a way of thinking that matters drastically. Looking at the positive. Removing the negative. Becoming adaptable and pliable so that we can handle what life throws at us. Life is never fair. But that doesn’t mean we can’t achieve and be more instead of giving in and becoming less. If life is going to be uneven, make it so that you achieve more than you think you should. Make it so that you experience more good things by doing and giving and being pliable to your situations. We can accomplish what we want to accomplish. We have to open. We can’t be weighed down by fear or any other negatives. It closes us off. It changes us, just like the positives change us. We have to choose which we want to emphasize. Whether we want to constantly struggle on our path or we want to travel light. There are already struggles we have to face. What’s the good in adding more for ourselves?
Instead, let’s travel with the essentials. The things we need to get our goals accomplished. The things that help us deal with life’s unbalanced paths, and lead us to a place of success and hope.
And I think with each realization, I began to release that fear a little bit more, and a little bit more. I tried it again the next day and the next. Until I finally felt like I was able to really let go of all of the angst that I felt about school and the way things happened when I was younger. I decided it was time to try something bigger.
Figuring out a way to forgive someone who I didn’t know, as my uncle’s murder case had gone on unsolved, was a very hard thing to do. I didn’t know his face or his name. I just knew that in a matter of seconds he sent more fear through me than anyone I had ever met. He took away the most precious gift we have. He was callous and cruel. And forgiving that seemed an impossibility and probably not a necessity. But somewhere in me, I knew that I had to find a way to stop letting fear rule over me.
I honestly don’t know that I have completely let go today, although I feel that I have. I’m fairly sure that since forgiveness like most things is probably a continuous process the fear will reemerge from time to time. But what I was able to do by saying that I was letting go of all of the hurt and fear that you’ve caused me over my life was to take back control of who I wanted to be. I was no longer going to be scared with so much of me stuck in place by the actions of that person. I wasn’t saying what happened was okay. It was not. It was and will always be a horrific, unnecessary act. But letting that act interfere in my life by continuing to worry, hate, and fear was no longer going to happen. My uncle was not living in fear and hate anymore. He is no longer bound by such human emotions. He simply exists in love, and to honor him, I should try my best to, as well.
Maybe it’s easier not knowing who to blame. But there was a time when I would look at everyone and think, “It could have been you.” Or I would refuse to look at anyone, because I was completely unwilling to let anyone in at all. To be in the place I am at now, where I’m no longer afraid to live and look people in the eye is amazing to me, because sometimes I was worried I’d never get here. The place I am at would have never been possible without the option of forgiveness. Forgiveness gave me the means to take my life back. It was able to help me restore my joy and my ability to love. It has truly made all of the difference in the world.
Even when I do have moments where I go back and I feel like I did back then, they are fleeting. I know they won’t last even when I’m experiencing them. That is the most wonderful change of all I think. Living in happiness, feeling worthy of what I have is something I hope I never trade in for fear again.
As for the boy I loved, I forgave him initially a long time ago. Maybe it sounds pretentious and maybe sometimes it didn’t seem true, but the day I asked for the rainbow, I had also asked for forgiveness. I wanted it for me and for him. And my experiences with him are the most prominent reminder I have that those moments of unforgiveness do reoccur, but I always have the capacity to utilize my self-control and refuse to allow any of the things either one of us have done in the past to keep me down.
At my very core, I wish him the best. I want him to believe in himself and to experience all of the wonderful things there are to experience here. And although for a time it felt like it was necessary for me to be there and see those things through with him, I did finally get to a point where it doesn’t matter if I ever know. I don’t want those things because I want to be with him. I want those things because I refuse to be angry and upset with him. That only stifles us both. I want them because he’s worthy of feeling this joy and chasing his dreams, too. With forgiveness I can choose love over fear.
When it comes to forgiving myself, it really is a challenge sometimes. What we have when working internally is the insight that we knew better ahead of time. When I made choices that were not consistent with the things I wanted in my life, it was always hard to feel like I should be forgiven for those choices. But when it came to forgiving myself for putting Jack in the position he is in, that was the hardest thing for me to do. We label someone a liar after only one lie, but how many truths must a person tell to be labeled honest. The negative is just so easy to hold on to.
Sometimes I still go back and note that I really did know ahead of time that I could do things differently. I didn’t have to listen to what the people around me were saying. I didn’t have to listen to what his father was saying. I had the chance to say no. And I didn’t. I gave in. I let go. And I hurt the person whose life I was responsible for. I cried many, many times trying to think of how it could even be conceivable to forgive myself for that. I wasn’t asking Jack to. I knew that was far too much to ask of him. But I also realized that keeping that guilt and holding onto that self-contempt was unhealthy for both of us. We both needed me to be the mom he deserved, and the only way to do that was to choose to let go of that pain.
I had to forgive myself, because holding onto something I couldn’t change was irrational and detrimental to our progress. I was determined to love him. I was determined to be the best mother I could for him. And to do that I had to choose to forgive. Sometimes I do still get a little overwhelmed, but I know how to bring myself back to where I need to be for us both. Back to forgiveness. Back to self-worth.
I promise not to publish such long posts again. But I had a lot of people asking me about forgiveness and if they thought it was real, or if it could truly happen, and I felt it would be good to just go ahead and post the chapter, because it does matter. It does happen. It is real. And it makes all the difference.
This post is a little long, I apologize. And it’s the first of two posts on forgiveness, because I’ve had a lot of people asking me about the subject lately. And I touched on it a bit yesterday, but decided to go with the long answer today, and that comes in the form of the first half of chapter 16 which is dedicated to the subject in my book. And here’s the post:
I think there is probably nothing that I have learned that has been as helpful as learning the importance of forgiveness. When I used to look back over my life, the list of people who had treated me unfairly was pretty long. I remembered everything, every conversation, every mean look. I knew who said what, who did what, even back to elementary school. I could go through them in my head, which I did somewhat often while I was in middle school and high school. I held on to the anger and the fear, and I would sit and remember why I was holding onto it.
These were people who were mean to me for no reason. I hadn’t done anything wrong. Or in the case of family incidents, I was right and they were wrong (I can’t help that this is ALWAYS the case – please note my sarcasm here). But there were people and times where our interactions made me feel like absolutely nothing at all. I felt so overlooked, and at times so betrayed, that forgiveness was nowhere on my radar. The things that happened to me were wrong. And I should be angry. I should hate them. But what holding onto that hurt and anger did was keep me right where I was.
Every time I thought about the things that had happened I was that girl, in that moment, feeling that hurt and scared. I never really snapped out of it. I let those things rule over me. I let my emotions get overrun, because I became too afraid to even want to be close to anyone. I felt unworthy, because all of those people on my list wouldn’t have treated me as they had if this weren’t the case. And it wasn’t until I was removed from the situation, I graduated and left for college, that I came to realize that the stuff that happened, for the most part, really did not need to continue to affect me.
As long as I let those thoughts and those actions rule over me I was letting the fear win. I allowed the treatment of kids who felt just as awkward and fearful (otherwise the interactions would have never taken place) to make me feel like I deserved to be treated that way. I had a small, but wonderful group of friends, all of whom I still try to keep in touch with today, but even with them, I didn’t really understand why they were my friends. I felt like they had so much more going for them than I did.
I was lost, because I was fearful. They all had plans, and I was absolutely certain they would fulfill them. I wasn’t the friend I could have been, because I knew they’d probably leave me behind. It’s not a good way to live your life, being that fearful. And the feelings I had were in large part due to my inability to forgive, because I couldn’t forget or overlook how I felt in those moments where I was hurt. Forgiveness is a continuous process. We have to forgive others and forgive ourselves. I used to think one was more difficult to do than the other, but I think they are fairly equal in their difficulty.
When Dr. Eger came and spoke to our Personality Theories class, she talked about forgiveness. She said that every night she prayed for the Nazi members who took her and her family captive, and who killed all but two of them. She and her sister were the only survivors. She told us that feeling guilty, because we didn’t have to go through what she went through was useless. And she was right, although this was very hard for me to comprehend. Comparing our lives to others does nothing but confuse us and give us excuses to stay where we are. She said we all have the option to be happy. But we cannot be happy if we don’t forgive.
I didn’t know how to imagine her forgiving those men for what they put her through. I didn’t know if she really had done so or not. But I believed that if anyone knew what they were talking it about when it came to forgiveness, it was quite likely to be her. That summer after I made the decision that I wanted to be happy, I decided that at 23, I wanted to start forgiving people for what had happened in my life and just try and see where it led me. I didn’t really know how to forgive, so I remember just sitting in my room praying and saying to the universe silently, that I forgive you. I am letting go of all of that fear and hurt. It doesn’t matter anymore, I thought. What good is it doing me to hold on?
We were watching the Queen’s Jubilee Concert tonight, and Paul McCartney was singing “Let It Be” and Jack recognized it as the Beatles. He said that was his favorite Beatles song, and I agreed. Normally I just indulge him, but in this case it was true. I love “Let It Be” and though I find it excessively difficult to distinguish favorites most of the time, and even moreso when there are so many great songs to choose from, “Let It Be” has been my favorite Beatles song since I first heard it.
It was written at a time when there was lots of turmoil going on in their personal and professional lives. They disbanded shortly after, and the song is sort of an anthem to the end. And it got me thinking about how life has to move in waves. Things have to end regularly for us to continue on in our lives. Friendships end. Relationships end. Parental roles change. Jobs change. The tide continuously turns and churns. And we have to be able to let go of those things that will inevitably come to an end. And we need to let go of those things that we are allowing to hold us back. When we look back over the years we can see just how quickly life does move. And if we aren’t moving with it, it’s easy to feel left behind. Our friends and family move on to other things. Our focuses change. They grow as life grows. Our interests change. Our habits change. Life in its nature is full of letting go.
Distinguishing between what to hold onto and what to let be can be difficult. We have to work for the things we want to keep. We have to work on ourselves. Work on our relationships. And work on our careers. But we have to be aware of what it is in our lives that we haven’t let go of that may be holding us back. Sometimes it’s as simple as an argument that we are holding a grudge over. Sometimes it’s a turn down a path we didn’t plan do go down. It can be holding out simply because we don’t want to be wrong. Whatever the case, when we are holding on to things that are holding us back it makes it nearly impossible for us to be happy in our lives. We have to learn to let go and let it be. It’s funny, because there is a tremendous freedom in letting go and letting it be. I have never found more peace in life than when I finally let go of the things that were holding me back the most whether it was through forgiveness or simply no longer holding out and giving up who I wanted to be for a relationship, the freedom that accompanied finally letting go was amazing. We can do things to help ourselves. We can do things to learn to let it be. And it’s important that we take the time to do them. Because no matter what you are searching for or fighting for, there will be an answer, if you just let it be 🙂
I also want to thank the following bloggers for nominating me for the following awards…I do appreciate all of the kindness you all have shared with me on this blog journey! 🙂
The Reader Appreciation Award
Thanks for writing award
I figured I would just go ahead and finish out my thoughts on love and move on from there…I don’t promise not to go back to it, but the other posts will probably be a little lighter than these 🙂
One of the things that I have realized with my son is the problem with guilt and regret. I used to believe that regret was an okay, or possibly even an important part of life. So I began to have issues with regretting what I had done that night. I never regretted Jack, but I certainly regret the way he had to come into this world. I hadn’t provided a perfect home-life. I had given him a father-less existence. I had acted upon frustration, immaturity and impatience, not love. I felt like I had very little to offer to him other than guilt and regret.
My guilt was tremendous and drenched in unforgiveness. I couldn’t forgive myself for doing what I knew not to do. I couldn’t forgive his father for choosing to leave. He did attempt to try, sort of, for a little while, but he ultimately chose to leave. In my mind had he chosen to try it would have made things better. It would have made my choices better. It would help make up for the choice we made that night. We could undo the wrong by choosing to do right.
But the problem is we cannot undo wrongs. We cannot change any of the things we have done with our lives. We cannot change the thoughts we had in the past. We cannot change the actions we took in the past. We cannot change the good. We cannot change the bad. The control over the past is existent only in our past. It does not exist today.
This realization left me with quite a problem. I didn’t know how to move forward, because I was holding on to what I had done wrong. I felt guilt and sadness. And even as I was realizing this in my life, I had to let go of that regret. Yes, it was wrong. I chose to put my need to find temporary relief from one overwhelming relationship by frantically diving into another ahead of anything else. Instead of standing strong and putting my son’s future being into consideration, my actions resulted in him being born to a broke, single-parent who didn’t really know how to make things right.
The night he was born I spoke more to the boy who I was trying to get away from, than I did to my child’s biological father. His father never said a word, even though he was informed of what was happening. I was bringing a child into chaos in my personal life. I loved a boy, who in all honesty I believed should and one day would be my son’s father. And even though I did everything I could to try to help my son’s biological father, I came up empty. He shut down. He was terrified. And all I really had to offer was a relationship with his son. But I was still figuring out who I was, and whether or not I was capable of loving my son, and what that even meant. I couldn’t really help my son’s father anyway.
I thought if I was sad then I wasn’t really loving Jack like a mother should, because with unconditional love there is no sadness. There is no fear. There is only trust. There is no worry. There is only love. But I was scared and worried for him all the time. I was sad that he didn’t have the life he deserved. I was sad that I couldn’t offer it to him. And as time has moved on, I do find that I still feel sad sometimes about the things I cannot give to him.
But I did find that I cannot regret what I have done forever. I can know it was the wrong choice. I can learn from it and choose to do things differently. I can choose not to live in fear and not to give in for temporary happiness.
If I want what is real and what is right then I must do things that coincide with that. I must be real in my interactions. I must make the right choices. I have to be the person that I want to be if I am ever going to look back and see what I want to see. So when it came to figuring out how to let go of the guilt and the worry and the sadness, it turned out that my issue was not truly regret, so much as it was forgiveness.
I could not forgive myself for what I had done. I could not forgive myself for the choices I made that night, or many other nights for that matter. I could not let go of who I was in that moment long enough to see who I needed to be right now. The shame that I felt in letting my son down was so intense. The fear had covered me whole, and finding how to love again was incredibly difficult.
I looked over my actions with my son. I wasn’t being a bad mother. I was completely devoted. There must be some love in there, right? I do everything I know to do for him. I care for him the best way I know to. I teach him the things I know how to teach him. I play, I laugh, and I sing and dance with him. I feel joy when I just think about him. Surely there must be love there, right?
It’s funny how easily we are willing to choose to feel guilty, instead of letting go and feeling the good things that life has to offer, especially love. I was told by a lady once in a class that guilt was a useless emotion. Each day I am more and more certain she was correct. Any thoughts?