As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. ~Nelson Mandela
If you’ve got a life history like me, the list of people that need to be forgiven can be daunting. What’s worse, you probably know you’d be better off forgiving and letting go. And maybe you already understand that forgiveness is about you, not them, but trying to do that for people who have so heinously harmed you – and some who keep right on doing it – can feel like the Universe is asking you to climb Mount Everest without oxygen.
I mean, I’m tryin’ to chanel my inner Nelson Mandela here, but seriously, good luck with that!
Lots of people talk about forgiveness like it’s this shiny nirvana-like experience in which you walk through to these beautiful pearly gates to freedom. And sometimes it does feel like that, but only when you FINALLY get to those gates.
The thing is, few people talk about the messy, convoluted, emotional and spiritual journey one has to take to get there. Remember, Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years! This does not diminish the magnitude of his forgiveness by any means, but the man had some time to work on it.
For some people, sometimes, there is a momentous experience of sudden freedom. But often it’s just a gradual release. There just comes a moment when you realize the resentment is gone. You don’t know when it left, but it’s gone.
For me it’s often the usual two steps forward, one back. Just when I’m gettin’ all serene about things, it goes, “I know you’re feeling really loving and at peace toward that person right now, but you forgot about that time he…!” And then I’m back at the races.
If you’re trying to let go and forgive the Ike Turners or the Joan Crawfords in your life, here’s a few suggestions to help you along the way.
1. This sounds so cliché, I know, but the first step really IS acknowledging that forgiveness is a process. Mandela himself called it “a long walk to freedom.” Indeed, it is a very messy and challenging journey. Hence, step two.
2. Acknowledge how hard it is. You’re trying to let go of some colossal grievances. It might not be Mount Everest, but it isn’t Blueberry Hill either. Again, releasing the burn of years of pain and resentment takes time.
And if you’re reading this, you already know the value of forgiveness, so cut yourself some slack. I have experienced the freedom of forgiveness, and it is indeed joyous. BUT, let me tell ya, it still feels almost impossible sometimes. I have a monkey mind that can’t remember somebody’s name from five minutes ago, but has no problem bringing back every… single… hurtful… thing… you’ve ever done to me.
3. If you’ve made it to number three, you now know that, Holy Shiz, this is really effing hard! Acknowledge you’re gonna need some help with this one. In fact, you’re probably going to need some Divine intervention.
4. As per number three, you need Divine intervention, so ask for it.
One of the best ways to do this in my opinion is to ask God to help you see the person you’re trying to forgive the way God sees them.
The thing about this one is that you’ll probably need to do this over and over and over before it actually happens. The reason for this is the Universe wants to be sure you’re really ready to see it. And you DO need to be ready to see this one.
I promise you, what you see will be nowhere near how you see that person today. And I promise, when you finally see that person the way God sees them, it will be one of the most profound paradigm shifts you’ve ever experienced. You will be forced to let go of everything you’re getting out of holding on to that resentment. Hellooooo humility!
Oh, and if you don’t think that resentment is serving you in some way, it’s time to get honest with yourself. It is. Maybe some journaling about what you’d have to do or who you’d have to be if you forgave this person is in order. If you ask yourself that question honestly and with an open mind, something in what you write will give you pause. When it does, Bingo! You found it.
So here’s a story of my own experience with this:
One of the people I did this with was my mother. Our relationship was so painful I didn’t speak to her for seven years. Then I got into recovery and finally started talking to her again. For two years I prayed for God to let me see her the way he saw her.
But let me tell you a little about my mother first.
She’s tall and very attractive. She dresses very flamboyantly. She’s incredibly self-absorbed, but she’s just got this overwhelming and commanding presence about her. When she walks into a room, you notice it. She makes sure all attention is on her, and while she’s in the room, she tries to keep it that way. To those who don’t know her that well, she appears dynamic and influential. To family members who do, her presence is often intimidating. The one thing my family knows about my mother is, don’t blow her show, and don’t piss her off. If you do, you’ll pay the price.
So, that’s how I saw my mother.
And then my mother had open heart surgery and almost died. I drove eight hours in middle of the night to get home. What happened from there is almost comical. My mother’s cell phone rings and my brother answers. It’s a strange woman wanting to talk to my mother. My brother told her my mother was unconscious so the woman just says, “Please tell her that J*** loves her.” My brother didn’t think too much of it, so he just said OK and hung up.
When my brother shared what the woman said, the rest of the family was stunned and perplexed: “Who’s J***?!” So we called the woman back and asked. Turned out J*** was my mother’s husband (we didn’t know she had a husband!), a man she met when she was in prison, with a criminal record a mile long, who was half her age (younger than her youngest son), and who was now back in prison for drugs.
The whole family was panicked. One of the things about my mother is that she made it a point to have the bulk of the family heirlooms in her possession. Now it seemed she was about to die and we were afraid they’d all go to this violent, drug dealing criminal who’d probably just hawk them.
So we went to her apartment the next day and packed up and hauled out everything we didn’t want the family to lose. (Doing what we did was it’s own form of insanity, but that’s a story for a different day.) At the end of that day I was emotionally exhausted and just pissed. Really pissed. I was sooo fed up with my mother’s unending shit. Even when she was completely incapacitated, she managed to stir more up!
I hadn’t visited my mother at all that day, nor did I really didn’t want to.
And then that still small voice piped in and said, “Madeleine, you came here to be with your mother.” I knew it was right, so begrudgingly I got in my car and, on my way to the hospital, asked God to help me have compassion for my her.
I walked through the hospital to her room in the intensive care unit feeling like I was walking into the twilight zone. You see, I had asked God for help, but the truth is I didn’t know how to be angry and loving at the same time. I had no examples of that growing up.
It didn’t matter.
When I walked into her room she was still unconscious and had tossed her covers off. She was laying on an incontinence pad, and her hospital gown was barely keeping her decent. She was hooked up to every possible monitor, was catheterized, and had tubes going in breathing for her, tubes going in feeding her, tubes going in medicating her. Her arms were tied down so she couldn’t pull any of the tubes out. Her fine hair was sweat soaked and plastered to her head, and she was drooling out of the side of her mouth.
This was not the self-absorbed, commanding, flamboyant, and intimidating woman I knew, but rather a woman who was only barely staying alive through life support.
And suddenly I understood: this was how God saw her!
I know I’ve written a lot here, but I don’t know that I have words for how that realization felt. I definitely felt love for my mother, but I was also flooded with a profound grief for the Truth of who my mother really was. And I understood at the deepest level that adage that hurt people hurt people. And I could forgive her.
In retrospect, I also understand why that experience happened when it did. When I asked God for compassion, I wasn’t asking for my mother to be different so I could be okay. I asked for compassion in the face of my mother doing what she’s always done. I asked for myself to be different with nothing in return. When I did that, the Universe knew I was ready.
But here’s the deal: Seeing my mother the way God saw her was definitely a pearly gate experience. But that’s not the end of the story. And although the rest is definitely an amazing experience of freedom, it is still nevertheless very messy and challenging.
My mother didn’t die. And in removing the family heirlooms from her apartment, we had in fact seriously pissed her off. But seeing her the way God saw her changed the way I responded to her. Her anger didn’t intimidate me nearly as much. It definitely wasn’t fun, but I was angry, too. And now I didn’t have to counter her screams. This time I could just state my position and let her have her feelings.
As profound as that experience was, it didn’t lead to everything being joyous and happy between us. Sometimes my mother still isn’t a lot of fun. She’s still who she is and the hurts still keep coming.
I got a helluva lot further along with that experience, but the journey didn’t end there. I’ll probably tell more of the story in another post. But it’s just another reminder that this is a process, one you need to give yourself time, space, and a whole lotta love along the way for.
Which leads me to number five:
5. Give it time. Suit up and show up (aka keep praying), and it’ll happen. And in the meantime, get on with the rest of your life.
If you’ve done number four – even if you haven’t yet had the major epiphany – things are still going to start to shift for you in other ways, so acknowledge the progress you’ve made.
Even the desire to let it go is progress. Many people in your position – who knows, perhaps most – never even get that far. So, are the moments of peace and serenity when thinking of this person getting more frequent, and the moments of resentment diminishing, even if only microscopically? Pat yourself on the back.
And now I want to hear from you. What suggestions can you offer to help us on the long walk to forgiveness? Has trying to forgive someone allowed you to see them completely differently? If so, leave a comment below.
Love and Blessings,
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