Monday, October 11, 2010

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.  ~Paul Boese

Forgiveness. It’s been my divine homework these past few years. I don’t think I really understood how to do this, and certainly didn’t recognize its power.  Recently,  I’ve read about it, dreamed about it, meditated, prayed, and waited impatiently for it to arrive.  I've used every tactic the experts suggest to rid myself of accumulated venom: a nasty, byproduct of unkind acts from people I care for and love. I tried visualization; placing my offenders in a canoe, on a beautiful forest stream, gently shoving them off, into the waiting arms of God.  But, before they reached those Arms, I found myself wading into that stream, oar in mid-air, chasing the canoe and screaming obscenities.  No tender release for me!  I've tried burning significant mementos in my fireplace. This suggested ritual of visualizing the pain, and the people responsible, spiraling up the chimney in ribbons of smoke, was to be taken a step further as I kindly let go. All would be swept up into the hands of a God who was better equipped to deal with them than I obviously could. Sometimes that didn’t work so well as a more voodoo’istic ceremony would play out in my head.  Regrettably, all I really managed to do was eliminate a few tokens, I, at one time treasured, that might later serve as reminders of how much I’d grown, a few loving moments, and happier times.   Wiping out the evidence doesn’t ever really obliterate the crime.  Lewis Smedes writes, “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past.  A healed memory,  is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”  And, that is precisely how I managed to perform the difficult, cleansing process of forgiving.  Serene streams and fire be damned.  I  chose to heal, rather than forget.  Healing is a process.  So is forgiveness.  
It doesn’t serve us well to forgive too freely with our voices, something I often did. That style of forgiveness doesn’t stay forgiven.  It’s usually not genuine, or healthy. It's like trying to slam the door shut with a broken jamb.  It just keeps creaking back open.   Sometimes I  forgave, because that is what my unhealthy, people pleasing behaviors dictated.  Often with those that weren’t worthy of pleasing.  The forgiveness “process” is like the grief process.  First, the offense is denied. Thoughts whirl... “They couldn’t have really meant to do this to me, could they? I'm sure it is all just a mistake. ”  That coping mechanism helps crowd out the reality of the immense harm done.  Second, anger sets in and the “lunatic karmic judge of the universe” (me)  reigns down all kinds of imaginary retribution. Paybacks become a sick, subconscious prayer. At this point the quote, "resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die", applies.  Only no one dies, you just become sicker and sicker. After awhile, the inability to tolerate the injections of "rage cyanide" you are mainlining directly into your carotid artery;  becomes so toxic, it is spilling over onto everyone and into every area of your life.  No one can stay that pissed off and vengeful, and function. Your mind shifts into the bargaining phase.  You still can’t assimilate what has happened, and of course, someone needs to be blamed, and you have already blamed everyone else, living and dead.  So, the anger is now directed at yourself and the faulty choices you make.  You pick yourself apart, unearth all your defects, identify your role and begin to bargain. "Maybe if I hadn't said this, or done that.  Maybe if I 'd been more patient.  Maybe I deserve this."  Your prayers, at this stage are along the lines of "let's make a deal, God".  Then the worst (and the best) as well as the loneliest.... depression sets in.  The recognition that, no matter what I think or do, this HAS happened and nothing can change it.  It’s painful.  It’s sad.  I can barely move. Go away. This phase can be a relatively positive, quiet time to process some of that information gleaned from the denial, anger, and bargaining phase and potentially become more in tune with our own defects, attributes and needs.  Finally (and there is no timeline to this),  acceptance sets in.  Acceptance of the betrayal. Acceptance of the loss.  Acceptance of the pain.  Acceptance of the harm done. Acceptance of your role.  Acceptance that you have survived.  Acceptance that somehow, you MUST set yourself free.  And, the only way to do that, is the thing you least want to do, forgive. 

Forgiveness is not something you simply make up your mind to do, and then get on with it. At least not the kind of forgiveness I am seeking.  It comes in waves, like the tides, but with every cycle, it brings awareness and healing, closer and closer to the shore. I’ve learned it can’t be done perfectly. Just because we have forgiven someone who has hurt us, does not mean that we need to invite them over for coffee, or into our lives again.  Forgiveness simply allows us to get on with the business of living, owning our power, rather than letting someone else diminish our inherent light.  Forgiveness  evicts the moocher who lives rent free in our heads, and makes room for creativity and enlightenment.  Forgiveness unlocks the chains binding us to the past and sets us free to move into a promising new future. 

Forgiveness.  Impossible for us to do with our heads.  It needs to begin in that spot inside our heart where our Creator lives. His loving hand solders the broken parts together with precious gold, making us more beautiful and capable of moving closer to a purer kind of love for humanity.  Able to see others, if we squint very carefully, as our Creator sees them. 
 The Bible speaks of faith, hope and love, with love being the greatest of the gifts. I hesitate to differ with such a Holy book, but I think, the greatest of all is forgiveness.  Without it, we remain trapped inside our custom made prison right alongside the perpetrator.   It’s impossible to extend love, create, or have an adventure when all locked up.   I believe the greatest Grace we will ever receive, arrives when we accept and forgive.  Without it there can never be genuine joy, peace, or real growth. 
Forgiveness has been my big assignment this past year. The journey has been mine, and mine alone, based on my experience.   One morning, I awoke;  the sunlight was brighter, the world was just a little fresher, and I was just a bit softer. As I stretched and breathed in the sensuality and  purity of those long missed, tender, feelings,  I noticed a warm energy  surrounding my heart.  I wanted to share it. Without conscious thought, my prayer that morning was for the life of one who hurt me so badly, to be blessed . I intuitively knew, the only way for any human being to really heal is by spreading the salve of Love.    And, for the first time in a very, long time, sincerely, I meant it!  The process, had come full circle.  
You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well. -  Lewis Smedes