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?