The Healing Series: The Journey that Breeds Purpose
Step 4: Forgiveness
A few years ago, I heard Oprah mention this quote about forgiveness that stuck with me as I was beginning the process.
As I was retracing my steps that led me to the broken place I was in, I thought about how many moments of my past I wish I could have changed. How many friendships and relationships I wished I would have noticed the signs before getting hurt, how I could have prepared better for some of the trials that took me by surprise, or how I wish I could have reacted differently to a myriad of situations in the past. See many of us wish we could go back and change so many previous moments and we think that when that change occurred, we could also change the pain we currently feel. Forgiveness is releasing that you can change anything and accepting what now needs to be done.
I grew up hearing the scripture that we are supposed to forgive 70 times 70. Of course being the inquisitive child I was, I actually did the math then asked why God would expect us to forgive others that much. You see there are many directives and commands in the bible about what we should do but hardly ever does somebody take the time to actually show you how to do it. So how can you possibly forgive if you do not know how? I do not believe that there is a scripture, a life aphorism, or a quote that could help you automatically release it all but I do believe that there are some questions that I had to answer in my process that helped me:
Why is forgiveness so hard?
Forgiveness is hard because we have to first be honest and say that many of the things that happened were totally unexpected. We don’t expect to lose relationships, friendships, be rejected, get denied, fail at the thing we feel God is calling us to, have doors closed in front of us, or have to deal with severe loss in our lives. These things have the ability to take us by surprise and often we are left to make the mature decision to forgive but it’s hard to do that when you are still hurt. I realized that the difficulty of this process for myself stemmed from the expectations I had on others and life. When I love, I love hard even if I don’t express it or say it as much. Because of that expectation, I am taken aback when the ones I love fall short of what I expected. I then begin to go down the thought process of “I could not imagine doing to them what they have done to me.” I was literally stuck on this thought so much so that it prevented me from checking myself enough to actually do the work I needed to. Because I was stuck, I would often say I forgave when I really did not. I knew that it was what I was supposed to do but I lacked the fortitude to actually do what I needed to do. I thought if I kept convincing myself that maybe if I just say it enough, it will eventually come but I was wrong and I would quickly find out what unforgiveness would lead to in my life.
What unforgiveness can lead to?
“You have a lot of resentment in your heart,” was what my friend and spiritual advisor Kevin Koh said to me when I was getting a chakra alignment. I was honestly taken aback by this statement and could not believe that my name was associated with resentment. He then begins to tell me that unchecked anger or not truly forgiving led me to this place. He was right, I WAS ANGRY! Not just at one thing or person but at so much! It was layers of pain over the past few years that I avoided because I kept saying that I forgave or that I processed what had happened but I really did not. I was skipping steps in grief and anger because for some reason I thought those emotions were bad and I did not know what they would open up in my heart if I let them fester. I would only allow myself to feel them for the moment and I would go right back to fake positivity because I just wanted to do the right thing. What I did not realize was that I was digging myself into a deeper hole by never checking my true emotions and never sitting with what I really needed to feel. So here I was resentful, bitter, and angry but the entire source was unforgiveness. This realization did not feel good but now that I was becoming more self-aware and honest, I did know that it was time to actually do the work to seriously forgive.
Why doesn’t forgiving erase the pain?
I thought that forgiving would all of a sudden erase the pain I’ve endured or will make it seem like it never happened in the first place, which can make you not want to forgive at all. I thought I had to unfeel the things I felt or pretend they did not affect me as much as they did. I was becoming an emotional hoarder unwilling to release the things I needed to because of my attachment to them. I had forgiveness all wrong in my head and because of it, I was suffering in a process that was preventing me from moving forward in my healing. I had to realize forgiveness does not erase the pain but it recognizes the pain, heals from it, and no longer lets pain have the power.
How forgiving others and yourself work hand in hand?
In the last step of Reflection, I uncovered and delved into the hidden parts of myself which caused me to have to forgive me. What I did not know was that beginning this process would push me to become more empathetic to others. When you realize that you too need forgiveness in this season, you can also understand why it is important to extend that very grace to others. There are constant thoughts that rang in my mind during this time: What if they do not deserve forgiveness? What if I never got an apology? One can get pretty stuck if they were to truthfully answer these questions. But for this process, I think that even when you feel that someone does not deserve grace, forgiveness is more about releasing yourself from the captivity of the offense. Offense is a choice to stay in and when you decide to, it can become a prison. As you are going through this process, remember to release yourself from the offense, the action, and the situation. This will help you see that the source of why we do many of the things we do stems from brokenness. There will be moments you have to begin the process of forgiveness without ever receiving an apology but that is when you realize that it really isn’t about the other person and the focus is on you cleansing your heart to properly move forward.
Why it is important to forgive God?
I remember talking to a friend and them telling me that they had to forgive God. They were terrified to say it because it sounds like an unusual thing to say but because I had been in that place before I empathized. If you know anything about how life works, you know that God is in control. He knows and he sees all. The basis of that doctrine is correct but I do believe that this can become misconstrued in the process. We can start blaming God for letting things happen to us never realizing that many of the things we have been hurt by were our own faults. We did not heed the signs and walked into situations we knew we had no business in and then when we are hurt, we point the blame. Honestly, it is easy to blame someone and even easier to blame God if you assume that he intentionally hurts us. But when you really begin to know and truly love God, you realize that he loves you so much and is very gentle with your heart. As I was healing and God began to reveal more about myself, I realized that I thought of God as this mean judge even though he was being careful with me. I had to change my perception of who he was and come to the fact that he really loves me. I had to begin to really walk in relationship with him. I also had to come to see that even the brokenness that I was currently experiencing was for a purpose. I had to confess that I was mad at him for seemingly allowing so many things to transpire in my life but I took the time to listen and reflect as well. I realized that he truly did not deserve the blame I was placing on him and that it was time to take some accountability for myself. And even the things that I did not understand in my life, I would surrender it to him and allow him to work it all out for my good like he has always done in the past.
In 2016, I went to South Africa. Of course while there, one of the number one things on my must do list was going to Robben Island. It was the isolated prison for mainly political prisoners and was where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 year prison term. During the tour, one of the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement that served time with Mandela walked us through the prison. He talked about the brutality that they faced and showed us the cells they spent years in. The entire time he shared his story, he kept mentioning forgiveness. He talked about how important it is to forgive, how it takes time, and eventually how it will helps you heal. I remember looking at him thinking about how strong he was to walk through the very places he was tortured in and still preach forgiveness. I did not understand then but now I know that he had to release that burden of unforgiveness in order to live a fulfilling life. Holding on to the pain just wasn’t worth it.
Forgiveness is the sole basis of the healing journey and has the ability to not only transform your heart but will shift the perspective from which you view your life and what has transpired in it.
Check yourself: Before moving forward in your healing, ensure that you are taking forgiveness with you. Ask yourself how serious am I about my purpose in life? Have I forgiven others, myself, God? Why haven’t I? What are some steps that I need to take to do so?
Make the decision to forgive today.