Forgiveness. That word is often tossed about in hushed and almost reverent tones. It is the holy grail of one betrayed. Have you forgiven yet? We feel pushed to reach that nirvana, yet we are unsure how to navigate the labyrinthine path that leads us there. Nor are we even sure that we would recognize our destination once we have arrived. The trouble is that forgiveness will take on a different facade for every seeker and the path will vary depending upon who is stepping upon it. Even though forgiveness is an individual journey, there are some universal guideposts that can help you navigate your own way.
Understand What it is Not
Someone has wronged you. I get it. I’m not trying to take that away from you. Forgiveness is not a pardon. It is not excusing actions that are immoral or illegal. It is possible to accept the past, acknowledge the wrongs, but not be help prisoner by the actions of the object of your anger.
Forgiveness has always reminded me of one of those optical pictures where you have to relax your eyes and unfocus in order to see the image hidden in the pattern. If you look too hard and focus too much on absolution, it will remain hidden. Think of forgiveness like a shy kitten. If you lunge towards it and try to grab on, it will run away every time. Relax and soften and let it come to you.
Forgiveness takes time. You can’t schedule it like an event upon a calendar (trust me, I tried). The time needed to forgive will differ for everyone. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you if it takes you longer than it did your friend. Be patient and allow it to unfold on its own schedule. I know, it is easier said than done, but that is the nature of this elusive beast.
Luckily, while you’re waiting for the forgiveness fairy, you can keep living. Don’t put your life on hold. Move forward and move on. Surround yourself with people that bring you joy. Play. Laugh. That ember that still burns inside does not weigh so much that you cannot move despite it. Live as though you have forgiven.
Gratitude and anger are mutually exclusive. Be mindful of what you have and (brace yourself, this is the hard part) what you gained from the person that you need to forgive. I know, your hackles went up. “That ^#%^&? How can I be grateful?? He/She did _______ to me!!” True. I’m not trying to take that away from you. You have a right to be angry. But you also have a right to see the good. Look for it.
Remove the Ego
We all find humor in the self-centered world of the 5 year old, yet we really haven’t evolved that much from kindergarten. When things happen around us, we have a tendency to believe that they happened to us. For example, your child comes home and immediately is defiant and argumentative. Your defences go up and you perceive your progeny’s behaviors as an attack. If you take a moment and breathe and remove yourself from the equation, you most likely realize that the instigation for the behavior is probably something that happened at school minutes or hours before. Spouses are no different. Perhaps you weren’t really a target after all, just collateral damage.
We are familiar with the concept of putting someone on a pedestal when we idolize them. We essentially do the same when we demonize a person. It can be easy at those extremes to see a person as two-dimensional, flat. We conveniently remove those characteristics that do not fit our perception. The truth is that we are all human in our messy and sometimes contradictory three dimensionality. Allow yourself to see the human side of the object of your anger. Let your own humanness peek out as well.
Start With Yourself
It is amazing as you take the journey of forgiveness how much changes as your perspective moves. You may be surprised that the target, the object of your wrath has shifted to yourself. We don’t like to be angry at ourselves; it feels traitorous, so we often project it on another. Like with everything, you have to begin with yourself. Soften to your mistakes. We all make them. Be gentle with yourself yet firm in your intentions. Let it go. It’s okay.
How will you know when you have reached your destination? There is no placard that says, “You are here.” No one stands at the gate and hands you a medal. Perhaps forgiveness is best described as peace. I hope you can find your own nirvana. Please leave breadcrumbs for those who follow behind.
You can read about my own journey to forgiveness in Lessons From the End of a Marriage.