Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Forgiveness Challenge

My list was longer than I thought and it's taking some time. I also procrastinated for almost a week, looking at my legal pad, which is practically attached to me everywhere I go, looking at my pen, also attached, and avoiding them like the plague.
In my mind I could easily list the small wounds; there was the girl who's name I can't remember who was mean to me in Kindergarten (I've also realized through this process that I'm incredibly petty), a rude comment made by my grandmother when I was a teen, several years of verbal abuse from a relative that I wasn't that close to anyway, all the millions of mean things my brother did to me as a child which have resulted in a fear of stair cases and severe claustrophobia, etc. Those things were easy.
But when I thought about the truly difficult things; the way my father left, old rejections that truly, deeply wounded, a bitter and recent betrayal by someone I trusted wholeheartedly, and a few others- I came up against a wall which loomed hugely in front of me. It was a wall of fear...and of pride.
Fear because in order to really forgive someone, you have to take an honest look at what the hurt really was, realistically look at your own feelings, and those things are scary. They hurt, so it makes sense that we avoid them.
And pride because I felt I had the "right" to hold onto my anger and resentment like a hot coal in my hand, yelling, "I won't let go! You can't make me!! It's mine!" Well, yes, it is. But it's also continuing to wound me, debilitating me, with each passing moment. And who's really suffering here? Not my father. Not those who rejected me. Certainly not that mean girl from Kindergarten who I'm sure is a lovely individual now.

In the words of C.S.Lewis, "Forgiveness is a beautiful word, Until you have someone to forgive." and he's right, as he so often is. Forgiveness is not a choice we make once. It's a perpetual release, over and over, for what can often be many years or perhaps a lifetime. My father left when I was sixteen and then disowned me in an email because " if you're the kind of daughter I'm going to have, then I'd rather not have one." I remember those words as if they are engraved in stone, which in a sense, they are. They're written on the granite tablet of my heart.
His rejection is probably the most minor in the list of "impossible forgives" which I have been called to do. This is not to say that I have more of a right than anyone else to hang onto my bitterness, because certainly I do not, but only to say that I have a deep and personal understanding of the battle that we all face when asked, either by our God, or by the mere penalties we face in our lives for hanging onto those coals, to release others from the prison we think we've placed them in.
And, as my dear friend Nancy stated in her comment to The Root of Bitterness, Forgiveness is entirely a personal matter. It's not something we will succeed at simply by advertising that we've done it. We can ask and answer that question only for ourselves.
Last summer, I had a strange experience involving my anger towards my dad. Very randomly, on a day when I was busy doing other things and not really thinking about him at all, I felt a very real prompting to write him a letter. To which my response was, "Are you kidding me?! No way!"
I delayed and delayed, that feeling of prompting getting heavier and heavier, the way it does when you KNOW you're supposed to be doing something and you are NOT doing it. When the constant prompting became too annoying to continue ignoring, I sat down with pen and paper, gave myself a pep talk, and tried to write. Nothing happened. I'm a writer. I can write just about anything because for some reason, that's the way God made me, and I tell you, I could not write that letter.
I started over and over, Dear.....who? Not 'dad' certainly. And 'father' was way too weird. I tried his given name and that looked ridiculous, but a better choice than the familial, so I went with it. And then, where do I start? "Hey, nice to finally be writing. Been awhile. How are things?" Nope. I couldn't even put the words on the page without the anger boiling up inside me. I didn't know what to say. I could imagine him sitting there reading it and picking up the phone. I didn't want him to pick up the phone. I didn't want to talk to him. I didn't even want to be writing that stupid letter to that man! I was furious with him and I refused to be polite! I started again and again, but my letter always turned angry and bitter, full of resentment and accusations, and I couldn't send that! My dad had to know that I'd grown beyond that and that he no longer affected me. That would give him too much power and I wouldn't do it. I just wouldn't!
But I'd been asked to write the letter and that feeling wouldn't let me go. In frustration, I tore off the millionth sheet from my trusty legal pad and wadded it up, an action I loathed because it indicated failure, and I started over. My way. Obviously I had writers block and just needed to get the emotions out of the way before I proceeded.
I then spent the next hour writing the most scathing letter I've ever written to anyone. Obviously his given name was replaced in the introduction for a pronoun more appropriate to my feelings at the time. The rest of that literary masterpiece followed suit. Four pages, front and back. Later, I set my pen down and leaned back in my chair.
"Well." I said belligerently to that still, small voice who had prompted me to write it in the first place. "There it is. I wrote a letter, just like you said." and dripping with sarcasm and hurt, I added, "Shall I send it????"
I didn't really expect a response, but He surprised me with one anyway and said, very simply, very clearly, in the way He does that is unmistakably His own, "I didn't tell you to send a letter. I just told you to write one." ............oh.

And there it was. All my anger and bitterness and rage and rejection, all the words the child was never able to say to the parent that left them, written plainly in pen and ink, in my own words, undeniable. I hate it, though it's obviously needed, when The Lord reveals the contents of my heart. Especially when I'm trying so hard to hide them from myself and everyone else. I just hate it.
I hate it because it makes me weep. Because it causes me to look closely and realistically at the pain I feel, and not just the anger. I hate it because it makes me vulnerable to a God I don't fully understand and never will and because looking at who we really are is often gut wrenching and horrible.
I sat there that day last summer and cried for that child that I used to be. And I suppose that was when I was truly brave, when I accepted that he hadn't just wronged me when he left and said those terrible things. He had hurt me. He'd broken me. And part of me was always afraid that I'd never be put back together.

Now, was I supposed to restore the relationship with my father? Nope. Because forgiveness does not always equal reconciliation. Again, it's not about the other person. It's about us. I was only supposed to release him, and I am still in the process of doing that. I'm not where I want to be, sure. But I'm definitely not where I was! That day was a miraculous day in my life and I'm so thankful that The Lord did what He did, though it was painful at the time, because I have been slowly able to release that hot coal from my hand. And as I am able to do so, my heart is changed. My father's hurtful words are not what I want written on my heart when the book of my life is at it's end.
Forgiveness is a life giving process in the same way that it is a life giving process when someone is released from prison. The doors swing open, the light shines in and eyes that have not seen freedom in ages, look to the sun, the sky, the world, and it is full of possibilities, endless roads that may be traveled now that freedom has been won.

"For where the Spirit of The Lord is, there is freedom..." 2 Corinthians 3:17

1 comment:

jkroft said...

It would be nice if forgiveness had a nice tidy formula that one could apply and then it's DONE! You are showing me that it is an ongoing process...owch...and that freedom is the fruit of it. Why do we suppose that Jesus took the keys of Hell with him when he left? I'm sorry to realize that I have at times chosen to be jailed by my own unforgiveness.Thanks for ringing my bell AGAIN. ><>J