“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”
“Never forget the three powerful resources you always have available to you: love, prayer, and forgiveness.”
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
A lack of forgiveness is like all other emotional states. It is little more than a phantom of the mind. It has only the power that I give it. But the power I give it is considerable. There have been few things more devastating for my emotional life than a lack of forgiveness. I’m not a theologian or a philosopher. All I can do is share my experiences. Like everyone else in the world, I’ve been hurt and hurt deeply. I’ve been betrayed, misunderstood, maligned and abandoned. And at times, these experiences have left me bitter.
Bitterness is the rotten fruit of the lack of forgiveness. It is a poison. For me, it was the constant obsessive preoccupation about how someone else wronged me. I turn it over and over in my mind. I become physically agitated. My bitterness becomes rage and my rage becomes a desire for the other person’s death. It blocks out any hope or desire for reconciliation or solution and it runs a good part of my life. The longer it is in me, the worse it becomes.
Probably the worst part of it is that the situation often involves a friend, not an enemy. We expect our enemies to treat us badly. We don’t expect it from our friends. Our friends are supposed to protect us. Then one day, there comes that sickening realization that someone we loved and trusted was not who we thought they were. The more sensitive we are, the greater this hurts and the greater our rage and bitterness.
Though I usually share personal stories, this time I won’t. It’s enough to say that I’ve been through the pain of betrayal, I’ve experienced the lonely reassessment of a valued relationship and I’ve fought, lost and won against the inner demons I allowed into my heart as a result of my pain. I choose not to share my stories this time, because they don’t matter. They are no better or worse than anyone else’s stories. Betrayal is horrible because it destroys trust, not only in the one who betrayed us, but in all our relationships. One day I realize that anyone, anyone, is capable of betraying me. This leads to the awful question, “If I can’t trust you, who can I trust?”
What is the answer to this cruel dilemma? I think, in order to find the answers, I need to ask the right questions. Here are the questions that I think we must all ask to reach forgiveness and peace. One question has already been asked and the rest are new here, but not new to the wounded.
· If I can’t trust _________________, who can I trust?
· How could this person do this to me?
· What did I do to deserve this?
· How can I get back at this person?
· Is it okay to feel hurt, angry or hateful?
· How can I be free?
· Do I have to restore relationship?
I will answer these questions one at a time, again based on my limited experiences in hopes that it will shed light for all of us.
“If I can’t trust ________________, who can I trust?” Nobody. You can’t trust anybody, at least not completely. Everyone, without exception, is capable of evil of all kinds, large and small. That doesn’t mean everyone will betray me, but I know that anyone can.
Does this mean that I look at everyone with a suspicious glance wondering when they’re going to hurt me? Some people do. That would be exhausting to me. I choose to believe that while all people are capable of evil, it doesn’t mean they will all commit evil. Earlier I mentioned having a desire for my betrayer’s death. But I didn’t act on it. We all have shadow sides, but most of recognize it and keep it from taking over. In this way, most people can be good.
“How could this person do this to me?” While most people manage to control their worst impulses, many give in. This was not only about you. It may not have been about you at all. Usually, almost always, it’s about the betrayer. When I have spoken ill of my friend behind his back, it is because of my fear, my insecurity, and my unresolved issues. This doesn’t mean you didn’t play a part in it, but I was the one who chose to act upon my lesser impulses. I am not a hero or a saint. I am a human being and I have done things in my life that have shamed and embarrassed me. There is truly no excuse for my behavior. My betrayal of you was about me, not you. Unfortunately, you were the victim. I’m sorry.
“What did I do to deserve this?” As I said, this was about the betrayer, not the betrayed. Still, I also have to look at what I might have done differently. Perhaps my mistake was an innocent one. Or perhaps I really hurt you. Either way, for the sake of my own personal growth, I need to not repeat behaviors that will allow a repeat of this situation.
“How can I get back at this person?” I can come back at you with the same degree you came at me. But I won’t. It will be worse. If you cheated me of a dollar, I will take ten from you. There is no limit to the number of ways I can get my revenge on you. Sadly, not one of them will make me feel better. I think they will, but they won’t. Revenge will actually make me feel worse. Trust me on this; I know.
“Is it okay to feel hurt, angry or hateful?” Of course. It’s okay to feel anything. No feelings are wrong. Feelings are not facts. They cannot be disputed. So I can feel whatever I want. But better questions might be, “Do I want to feel hurt, angry or hateful? Do I want to carry all that around?” Based on having done it in the past, my answer is a clear, “No, I don’t!” I absolutely do not want those feelings, or any negative feelings, running my life.
“How can I be free?” I have found several ways to be free. Most often I need to go to that person and tell him or her how I feel. Nine out of ten times this restores the relationship, or if not the relationship, then my own peace of mind. Sometimes I need to go to God and ask Him to enable me to forgive, because I’m just unable to on my own. Other times I need to keep forgiving until I am free. And sometimes I just need time and distance. Then I can reassess the relationship.
“Do I have to restore relationship?” No, I have to restore myself. When I do, I will know what to do. Some relationships will never be healthy and life is too short to have them in your life. Others are worth restoring because life is too short to not have them in your life. You will know.
Without forgiveness, there can be no peace. Without peace it is hard to move forward in Purpose. It is better to Get Started and Keep Going and to forgive.