A few days ago, I posted a SUPER long post about forgiveness in response to a writing prompt from my friend, Marc Schelske. Later he requested I respond to the post he had written, “OK, I admit it. I hate forgiveness too,” as a result of responses he had received regarding his original post, Does the church hate forgiveness? (Like Jonah).
He talked about things, which I think we all struggle with, Christian or non. Things like holding onto woundedness and the need to have the offending party “pay the price” or “feel the pain” for the original offense.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve spent a lot of my life caught up in that kind of thinking.
As a teenager, having “lost” my mom when I was twelve years old and being in my uncle’s custody, a lot of things that shouldn’t have happened did and a lot of things that should have happened didn’t. I was made to be responsible for and exposed to things that a young teenager should be insulated and sheltered from, in an ideal world.
I wanted out. I wanted away from my “white trash” beginnings and the dysfunction of weird, convoluted relationships, alcohol and substance use and abuse. I wanted to have a life where I didn’t have to move every year or two and try to integrate into a new school with new kids. I wanted to be involved on the flag team, the gymnastics team, and the dance team. I wanted him to show up and care, to fill out the forms, attend the events, and offer me support and encouragement for the things that meant something to me.
He wasn’t able to do those things, for a lot of reasons I couldn’t see or understand.
I watched him pursue and engage in toxic and co-dependent relationships with bent, broken, and damaged people while neglecting his responsibilities to me and to my baby cousin. I watched my grandmother take responsibility for us when she wasn’t well enough to do so. For a brief period of time, which felt like forever to my 15/16 year old self, I handled parenting and life responsibilities, which were his, because he was absent. Yet, when he showed up, I was subject to his authority.
It was bewildering, infuriating, and absolutely unfair. I desperately wanted to graduate from high school, get my college degree, and leave everyone and everything I was going through far, far behind me.
Instead, I wound up running away from home at 16 and became a mom at 17. Then I had a second child when I was 24.
I repeated all of the same patterns and made similar choices that passed on the damage I had experienced to my children. All the while I held onto the stories of what I had gone through with all the resentment, bitterness, judgment and unforgiveness which had become imedded in my heart, mind, and soul.
I watched myself say and do things that wounded and harmed people I loved with all my heart and I fought as hard as I could, trying to change the direction of our lives. Church, counseling, education, and 12 Step Recovery processes (secular and faith-based). None of it ever seemed to change what I was doing or what I was experiencing.
When my son was about fifteen years old, he chose to move out of my home because of how overwhelmingly dysfunctional and painful it had become. I saw myself and my uncle and the things that had transpired between us. It was then I realized, the harm he’d done had happened because he, himself had been wounded and damaged, and that he did not know any better than I did how to make the changes that needed to be made.
In the last eleven years, I have learned to do two things, partly as a result of the 12 Steps:
1. AIM – Assume Innocent Motive: Whenever someone, anyone, says or does something that affects me in a painful and destructive manner, I think over all the times I have done the same, without ill intent but just because I was too screwed up to do different. I know that, most of the time, whatever it is that has been done was not intended to cause me harm. Yes it still hurts, but it helps me to let go of the false belief that their choices and behavior are about me.
2. Understanding. By seeking to understand who the other person is, where they are coming from, and the things that are informing and driving their behavior, I am able to let go of expectations for them to be other than who they are.
Finally, it has taken me the better part of the last 17 months to work through a lot of deeply rooted guilt, shame, bitterness, and resentment. It has been a long and arduous journey to truly believe and receive in the forgiveness of God through Jesus. Until I could internalize that, I was filled with self-hatred and unforgiveness of myself.
What Jesus did on the cross, the plan that God set in motion from the foundation of the world was a supreme act of Pre-Forgiveness. Once I understood that, I began to choose, in advance, that whatever pain and suffering I experienced at the hand of others, especially those I love, I was going to forgive and let go of. I love them. I want them in my life. I want them to know that, no matter what, I am not going to forsake or abandon them as I have done before. I am going to be with them in all ways, the way Jesus promised to be with me, with us, always.