I never seem to be able to choose to forgive someone. I will think I’ve done it, and then the resentment comes back in short order. As I was cleaning up the kitchen this morning I was reflecting on forgiveness. For about 18 months in 2010-11, it was a big theme for me and during that time I was feeling called to understand forgiveness and longing for it but felt little ability to produce it intentionally. Ultimately, over the course of those months, I came to experience forgiveness toward several of the people with whom I was really bitter.
What I found is that I have to relentlessly pursue healing within myself at whatever level it takes, focus entirely on my own integrity and growth, and at some point I will realize that the forgiveness has happened in retrospect. For instance, as I have healed from childhood wounds and have taken ownership of my interior landscape, I have been able to separate my inner world from the people who helped create it. At midlife, I feel I have really forgiven my parents, among others. The impact of their actions and the way I integrated them into my personality continues, but I really feel it is all mine now: my anxiety, shame, neediness, isolation, etc., not something my parents did to me or for which I need them to be punished.
A new (semi-regular) Examen practice (see my earlier blog) has been giving me the opportunity to be a loving witness (with unattached curiosity) to various truths about myself that I had not noticed before. I was too busy judging or making some quick analysis without going slowly and softly and waiting for the quiet truth to emerge. So, this practice has been enabling me to befriend my anxiety, to understand it as much more than an oppressive and demeaning condition. It tells me about myself, rich sweet things that no one else understands as deeply as I do, and who can understand why I am coming to love this about myself? Only me. What I have learned from the voice and physical experience of my anxiety over the past few months is that I am much more sensitive than I thought, I don’t like certain kinds of pressures or environments that I would have gladly endured in the past without a second thought, I am a very spiritually sensitive person and need nuanced input for growth, that I am brave and fierce and powerful, I have a very unique sense of life and living that is rich and redemptive and that could save the world if it matured well, and so much more.
When I am hurt or bitter, the question becomes “what does this hurt that clings to me tell me about myself that I didn’t know before?” The pain is a knife cutting through the crap, holding precious truth out for me to discover — truth that can set me free. I believe my wounds are tickets to freedom, not just to be rid of them, but for what their long companionship says about me and to me. If they cease to be bad, but instead are messengers of liberation, what might they say ? What gentle, probing questions can I ask to understand why they function the way they do, what they are screaming for me to acknowledge, how they serve or protect me, how they make me a better person, etc.
When the day comes that I can say that I have forgiven someone and I feel ease, gratitude, and even mirth about the situation, the gift will not be so much relief from the hurt itself. The gift will be what I learned from this great trial, all the knowings about myself, about others, about life itself, about everything that matters and doesn’t, about freedom and forgiveness itself. These will rise up for me as the shining jewels of the experience and I will say thank you to the one who hurt me for the opportunity to discover such riches, for making my life that much deeper and more loving. And I will have forgiven without trying, and it will be a gift. At this point in my life, I have stopped expecting forgiveness from myself or from others, for that matter. It is always a gift.