A number of years ago, I co-led a day-long retreat on forgiveness. A woman (who didn’t end up signing up for the retreat) wanted to talk about what it would be like before committing. As I explained the basic format, and how I imagined it unfolding, she kept saying things like, “How could anyone forgive the atrocities ….” and then she went on to name notoriously horrible crimes, situations, and individuals. I kept trying to bring her back by saying things like,”What we will be dealing with, is who (or what) you are having trouble forgiving”. I didn’t say this to put her off, but to keep her focused.
But she wouldn’t go there. She wanted an answer to a question that (at that moment in time) she wasn’t being asked (by the larger part of herself) to deal with. I don’t understand how people can forgive some of the crimes that have been committed against them or those they love either, . …but I understand that each one of us must forgive what has happened to us and to those we care about.
We are each given our own situation to “forgive” …it is as if we all have our own “corners of the Universe” to redeem, and when we do our work, no matter how small or insignificant our part seems to be, we help all of humanity.
As I think back on that retreat, I’m not sure it was very effective. I thought I knew a lot about forgiveness. I certainly had read a lot of books, participated in many retreats, and talked to many others about it. I just hadn’t finished my piece yet. I still struggled with feelings of resentment and anger at both of my parents and deep down (although I didn’t consciously admit this) I didn’t think it was possible to be free of these feelings. I witnessed what long-term resentments did to others, I just didn’t realize how much my own lack of forgiveness, toward my parents, was effecting my life and my current relationships.
The change came for me when I realized that time and age would not eliminate the resentments. I saw so many people around me at ages 50, 60, and into their 80’s, still carrying around resentments from childhood, and I could see what it was doing to them. Energetically, they looked like beings with huge, old, army duffel bags strapped to their backs, lumbering though life, weighted down, as the loads got heavier and heavier.
Sometimes it is easier to see in others, and I just knew that it was time to do my work, if I wanted a life of inner peace and freedom.
How do we forgive? We commit to do our part to clean up our own past. We make a commitment to ourselves, to stop blaming others for the way our lives turned out. We make a decision that nothing is more important than our own happiness. And then, almost like a miracle, something larger than ourselves comes in and helps us. We open the door by being willing to forgive everyone, and find out that the work is being done for us, and through us….and then we refuse to take it back again.
“I knew that my heart and mind would always be tempted to feel anger–to find blame and hate. But I resolved that when the negative feelings came upon me, I wouldn’t wait for them to grow or fester. I would always turn immediately to the Source of all true power: I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.”
― Immaculee Ilibagiza, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
P.S If you had asked for an affirmation (Monday’s post) and I missed your comment, please comment again and I will choose an affirmation for you.