I have been writing this blog in my head for most of my adult life. The incentive to finally go public: seeing the look on my best friend’s face when I challenged her about not being very forgiving.
Her story starts simply enough. A trust that was brutally betrayed, disillusionment from shattered dreams, and enough regret to hold her back from being the woman she wanted to be. As she talked, the words sounded more and more familiar. It was my story too. It reminded me of the one fallibility, the one weakness that does more damage to my hopes and dreams than any action another can take.
I am not very good at forgiving others who have hurt me.
I am even worse at forgiving myself for mistakes I have made.
As much as I want you to think that I am better at forgiveness, I am not. None of us really are who we think we are. During this time of introspection, I want to be clear. This is about me getting real with me. Not just living authentically with others, but living authentically with myself.
I need to let go and leave some things behind.
I haven’t always lived out forgiveness in my everyday life. I also don’t want to be trite. Too often I have heard the phrase “let it go” as an easy remedy to forgive someone, mostly from those who didn’t understand what I was going through. For those of us who have experienced any form of violence, I am not talking about that either. Those pains are lifelong struggles to recover our sense of self, our sense of identity, our sense of safety and security, and in a lot of ways, our ability to reclaim hope once again.
What I am talking about are those grudges, those slights (both perceived and real), and those injuries which makes us see another human as our enemy instead of who they are. Flawed, frail, fallible and, just like me. Their failures become our siren call for not moving on, moving through, or moving past – we have been let down, we can’t trust anymore, we can’t risk… again.
It has held me back… not just from living and loving fully, but from leading fully.
Let’s be honest. In challenging my friend’s lack of forgiveness, I was being hypocritical. Like many others, I engaged in forgiveness as an intellectual and academic exercise. I liked to entertain the notion that I was more gracious, better and stronger (fill in your word of choice) because I forgave. “Oh, look at me, I am so full of mercy” is not something I ever said but it was what I believed.
What does being unforgiving look like? Bitterness, rage, caustic, cruel, harsh, judgment, defeat, envy. Gifts that keep on giving. Each of these, when unaddressed, has a way of stealing, killing, and destroying us. Envy is particularly powerful because I spent more time wondering how someone else “got away” with something rather than contemplating “how did I get away with that?” Unresolved, we tend to lash out at one another. It goes beyond bullying (especially the Tall Poppy or Queen Bee syndrome), it becomes a sanctioned form of violence.
In reality, it is those we love and those who love us who pay the price for our lack of skills in the area of forgiveness. Our… no, I need to own it. My bitterness, rage, and pain do more damage than I care to admit. In an unforgiving state, I am numb to the impact I have on others.
What I also failed to recognize was that being unforgiving is really about me rejecting others. When I don’t forgive, I reject the idea that you are human. I reject the idea that you are going to make mistakes. I reject the idea that you must to be true to yourself, rather than who I think you should be. I reject the idea, and my most egregious error, that the pain I have inflicted on others is equivalent to the pain that has been inflicted on me. In reality, I will never know the damage I have done to another by my careless words, my wavering attention, or putting my priorities ahead of someone who really needed me to be there. It is true that the most devastating form of contempt is neglect.
How many slights, judgments, and criticisms have caused pain and damage that is irreparable, whose hopes have I squashed, what opportunities have I squandered, and which dreams have I devastated?
I am grateful that I will never fully know the damage I have done to others. But because I don’t know, it makes it easier to remember others’ injuries against me. The question I should be asking: why am I entitled to restorative justice when I won’t allow others to demand it of me?
My deepest regrets are not usually what others have done to me, they come from the wounds I inflict upon myself. It is the accusing finger of the woman in the mirror reminding me of the times that I wasn’t all that I wanted to be. She can inspire a level of mortification like no other. There are things I have done which still bring tears to my eyes.
Sometimes they are “small” things; when I failed to reach out, return a phone call, or pay attention to someone who was sharing their heart with me. Other times, it is the moments where I was not the woman I thought I was or aspired to be. Times when I have let down and disappointed others in ways that I never would have imagined myself doing. Times where I have failed miserably, didn’t live up to my core values, and hurt others in ways that I am ashamed to admit. Or, in a moment of hypocrisy, when I failed to practice the advice I had so freely “imparted” to others.
Not forgiving myself has also held me back as a leader. The fear of disappointing another provides refuge and allows me to hide – to live less genuinely, openly, and tenderly. We all live and lead with a limp. We all hurt, and hurt others, at times. Being unforgiving about what I have done creates the illusion of my own perfection and masks my flawed sense of self from others. What does it really mean when we say “I don’t ever want to make that same mistake again” or “I won’t let someone inside because I was hurt so badly before.”
I have learned some powerful lessons from cleaning out those infected wounds related to forgiveness. Some of those wounds were actually gifts. The shattered image of who I thought I was has given me an opportunity to discover who I really am. A dream denied revealed my heart’s deepest desire. Losing something I treasured spurred me to more consciously act in alignment, internally and externally. Tested as iron sharpens iron, true friendships have been forged. Those lessons could not have been learned any other way.
Forgiveness is also about hope, strength, and freedom. Hope that I am not bound to the past. Strength because I have the courage to see myself as I am. Freedom to let go of the you I thought, wanted, hoped, and wished you would be.
Who do you need to forgive today?
Count the cost. Grieve it. Then, leave it behind.