This is one of those “bare my soul” articles. I don’t do this very often. But the other day I got a spiritual nudge to write about a private part of my life. I’m hoping it will help others, including you if you can relate to some of what I have experienced.
First, whenever I write about friends, associates, or family members, I do my best to respect their privacy. Even when someone has treated me poorly or been downright wrong, I “cover” for them. So I don’t use names or descriptions. I just use the term “loved one.” I’ll share more about this personal policy in a few minutes.
For now, I am going to write about a loved one in my life who hurt me deeply. It wasn’t a one-time occurrence. The harm, insults, and abuse transpired over many years. Not all interfaces with this person were bad. In fact, most of them were okay and some very good. Maybe you can relate to up-and-down relationships. You endure the rollercoaster ride because there are enough pleasant times. The painful experiences are brushed aside and you go on. That was how this relationship was for me.
After many years on the rollercoaster, the ride finally went out of commission. The “operator,” or in this case my loved one, decided to search out a different ride. The ongoing relationship ended and I entered a different season of my life.
But here’s the thing . . . the painful memories remained. I still heard the put-downs and the verbal abuse in the recesses of my mind. And the messages would often come at the oddest times. Like whenever I stoked the fire in my cottage’s little wood stove, the unkind words from this person rang in my ears. I felt the pain again. Over and over. It was like the simple movement of stoking the fire triggered the tape player in my head.
Even though the relationship was over, I remained in the shadow of its influence on my life. The pain morphed into bitterness and resentment. And while the loved one was gone and probably doing fine and enjoying another “ride” in the amusement park of life, I was still slogging around in the muck that I had not been able to escape.
By that time I had been a Christian long enough to know that I was commanded to forgive. I tried. I really did. Over and over again in prayer and in conversations with God I would try to forgive and let go. But then I still stoked the fire – and the painful put-downs would echo in my mind. Or I would be doing something totally unrelated and a memory would fly into my consciousness and sadness and hurt would ensue.
Finally, after several years, I got to the point that I didn’t want to carry the weight of the memories, or the burden of the bitterness and the resentment, any longer. I wanted to be free from the pain. I wanted a breakthrough. And I knew that total forgiveness was the avenue to the desired end.
But I was challenged? I knew I needed and wanted to forgive. But obviously I didn’t know how! After all, in my numerous previous attempts, I still had not been successful. I remained stuck in the muck. I still had not been able to move on. And I still had the bondages on my soul.
Maybe you can relate. You want to “shake it off” and move on. But it’s just not that easy. And that’s where I was.
My change point: it was the beginning of the year in 2007. I remember saying to myself, “This is your year of forgiveness.” And I then started a quest. I read books on forgiveness. I read magazine articles and blog posts. I listened to video teachings and podcasts. They all helped. Bit by bit I gathered fragments of information and discovered steps that would take my further in my mission. But I still didn’t know the steps. I knew I needed and wanted to forgive. I knew more than ever about forgiveness. But I still didn’t know how to go about it so I could reach total forgiveness.
I remember reading a really helpful article written by the daughter of a woman who had been tragically betrayed. The author of the article described the circumstances of the situation and that her mother had finally been able to forgive the offender and move on. But like the books, and the videos, and the podcasts, and the articles I had already read, the “how-to steps” were missing. I wanted to know how she did it! What did she do to get to that place of forgiveness, release and peace?
The question burned in my heart so profoundly that I decided to write to the author of the article. I found her email address and sent her a message asking if she could share with me the steps her mother used. I explained that I had a situation in my life that I desperately wanted to resolve through forgiveness.
Within 24 hours I received a response. She explained that she would like to tell me, but she didn’t really know the answer. She went on to explain that her mother had passed away, so she couldn’t ask her. She agreed that knowing the steps would be a valuable asset and that she would do more research and let me know her findings. I responded with a note of profuse appreciation, but I never heard from the woman again.
Finally, I took all the bits and pieces I had gathered from the research I had completed and started a process. For me it was like beginning a journey and taking one step at a time toward the destination I wanted to reach. The goal was in sight, but still off in the distance.
What I discovered along the way was that forgiveness can be a process. Sometimes, like a dog shedding its winter coat, we need to slough off layers of memories and emotions over time rather than being skinned all at once!
I also learned what forgiveness is . . . and what it is NOT! Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you approve of the actions. In fact, forgiveness doesn’t even mean you must like the person or restore a relationship with him or her. Forgiveness doesn’t always mean you will totally forget the offences, although sometimes that can happen.
Here is the truth I learned about forgiveness: Not everything is acceptable . . . but everything is forgivable.
I also found that forgiveness includes scriptural disciplines, including not talking about the offender in a derogatory way or doing anything that would bring him or her harm. That’s why I rarely write about times when I’ve been abused and also why I use the term “loved one” when I teach.
I studied the life of Joseph, who had been terribly abused by his brothers and by people he had befriended. His tenets of forgiveness serve as an excellent model for us to use when we want to totally forgive a loved one.
One of the most powerful activities I used was a symbolic time of letting the offenses drift out of my life. The action became one of my “how-to steps” for forgiveness. Here’s what I did: I gathered about a dozen fallen leaves from my yard. On each of the leaves I wrote one offense or memory that I wanted to forgive. I then took the leaves outside and stood on the bank of a little creek on my property. One by one, I read the notation on the leaves. I said aloud (I lived in a rural location with a lot of open space), “I forgive __________________ of this offense. I am dropping it into the water and sending this pain out of my life.” Then I watched the leaf flow down the creek in the current and disappear from my sight. I followed the process over and over again until all the leaves were gone.
Taking this symbolic action helped me in the physical act of forgiveness rather than just the thought of it. It started a shift in my thinking. I also used other exercises.
Later, I entered into the most profound experience of total forgiveness during a powerful meeting time with Jesus. I can still picture our time together in my mind’s eye now, even though it was so many years ago. I set up two chairs in my front yard, one for me and one for Him. And then we started the process of forgiving and me casting my cares on Him. Truly, this was the biggest turning point and within a short time, I can honestly say I was finally able to totally forgive!
I am here today and can proclaim that I have truly experienced complete forgiveness. I’m free of the bitterness and the resentment. Only on the very rarest of occasions do I hear the old tapes in my head – and when I do, I now can shake off any sting. I remind myself, “Susan, on November 6, 2007 you totally forgave __________________.” That was my meeting with Jesus that transformed me forever. I know the date because I logged it in the margins of my Bible right above Matthew 6:12, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
So if you still have bitterness, resentment, or painful memories that you’ve not been able to shake, know there is hope for you. You can forgive. You can be free. You can get on the other side and one day experience the complete freedom that total forgiveness allows.
If you’re ready to enter into the process of total forgiveness, then you can learn more by clicking on the link below.