Forgiveness, The Fiftieth Week in the Second Year of the New Abnormal
As the year approaches its end, forgiveness is on my mind. I find that forgiveness is a process, though I used to imagine it was a one and done affair. I earnestly believed that I could forgive someone and then I’d be okay with them. I found that not to be the case. It was easier to forgive if the person made changes. Meaning they either stopped the offending behavior, or they started acting in a way they had avoided prior.
When I was younger, probably, post three-years-old and before I was forty, when I did something that was not thoughtful of another and then was found out, I begged for forgiveness. I needed to be forgiven to feel I could go on. This may have come because my mother, known to others as being kind, was particularly unforgiving to her daughters. One year I snuck into her bedroom closet to see if she got me a smart doll I coveted. I couldn’t find it, but she found me in the walk-in, and then I made up a pathetic lie.
When Hanukkah arrived the following week, I watched my sisters and brother open their gifts as I craved something to unwrap. For seven evenings I sat with them hoping that night would be the night I would be forgiven and be handed a present for the holiday. She begrudgingly gave me a gift-wrapped box on the final night. And I acted as if the plaid pajamas was the nicest thing I owned.
Now I understand that she was raising four children on her own since my father worked so many hours. And I had robbed her of one of the few joys she had as a mother, surprising us with gifts she secretly picked up while we were in school. Plus, she was an honest person and lying was something she couldn’t abide. I don’t know if she ever forgave me, or if my father pressured her to give me one gift. Or, if neither were true and I simply needed a new nightgown, but I hugged her as if my life depended on it.
I understood the power of forgiveness. I made a point of forgiving, or acting as if I had forgiven as I soothed my soul until I could forgive. And then I learned how forgiveness is something we give ourselves. It takes away the negative feelings we harbor. It releases us from the past so we can live lighter having unencumbered ourselves of umbrage. My mother and I enjoyed that freedom as I matured, and I was able to appreciate all she had given me.
Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is about not weaponizing past behaviors, of others or ourselves. Forgiveness is an act of self-love. We care enough about ourselves that we will not allow the past to hold us down. And, yes, it’s a process. Sometimes I have forgiven Larry, my husband, because he hadn’t thought of me when I wanted to be considered. But I was not ready to let him know I forgave him. I was still processing that forgiveness. I knew I was in the final stages when I found my sense of humor and could own my part in our dynamic.
And, though there is so much more to forgiveness, please forgive me for this short set of thoughts at the end of this year when too many have experienced way too much hurt. For more on the subject, Harriet Lerner’s Why Won’t You Apologize is an excellent book on the subject.
May we all find lightness of being by unshackling the burdens of our resentments. Warm wishes this holiday season wherever you are in your path of forgiveness.
- Read, reread, or listen to Harriet Lerner’s Why Won’t You Apologize. Or listen to her TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r6Y9uhmL6Y
- If you’d like to forgive, have compassion for the pain and upset you’re experiencing. Caring for yourself is an important step in forgiveness. Malachy McCourt’s quote is a great reminder of the power of forgiveness: "Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
- Taking action in the service of others, like donating to a beloved non-profit, volunteering, being kind to a stranger, are great ways to work on self-forgiveness.