by P. Braithwaite
My ex and I broke up two years ago because he didn’t come to my grandmother’s funeral. Actually, it’s not that he didn’t come, he refused to come.
“I don’t do funerals,” he said as I cried on the phone.
Fast forward: This ex called me the other day and we had an awesome conversation about art and creativity. It was great, but when he called back the next day, I found myself getting irritated — really irritated. I actually ignored his phone calls for a week or so until I finally sent him the text with the following question: why do you think I should maintain a friendship with you? What value-added do you bring into my life?
Now while I think it was a fair question (I honestly couldn’t think of an answer), I knew I was being a little aggressive. The harshness of that question had me wondering if I’d ever really forgiven him. And that question made me wonder: what the f*ck is forgiveness, anyway?
These are the moments when I wish I had Oprah on speed dial.
Some general reflections on forgiveness:
1. The heart always forgives immediately. The ego takes a bit longer: I’ve been trying to check into how certain emotions feel in my body. When I used the word forgiveness toward my ex, I felt a slow burn in my stomach. It felt like a balloon deflating slowly – a steady stream of helium escaping from a blow-hole. This was surprising because I expected to feel pain in my heart or tears in my eyes. The lack thereof made me think that my heart was perfectly intact and that perhaps my ego was a little injured. I think the heart forgives almost immediately. I actually don’t think that hearts break at all….everything else however, is susceptible to injury.
2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we ever have to be friends again:
I have a friend that says forgiveness means you can invite a person over to your home for dinner. I think forgiveness is more like inviting the person over to your home for dinner without wanting to poison them. Just because I forgive you, doesn’t mean that I ever want to interact again. It doesn’t mean they deserve my time, energy or attention. It just means that, one way or another, I’m no longer holding perceived injustices against you. Oprah says: “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.” Agreed, but that doesn’t mean we have to sign up for repeat performances.
3. Forgiveness of others comes after forgiveness of self:
I firmly believe there are no victims in life. Everyone, on some level, is complicit in the relationships they participate in. Yes, people lie; yes, people cheat; but ultimately you agree to stay, ignore, struggle, and/or fight. So when it comes time to forgive another person, I truly don’t believe we can do that until we’ve freed ourselves from judgment. When I looked myself in the mirror and forgave myself for dating such a douche-bag (sorry), I was able to really survey the situation. I didn’t have to pretend to be this “nice” or “enlightened” person who was so centered that she actually wanted to have a conversation with her ex. I didn’t have to downplay my hurt or pretend it didn’t matter. NOPE! Instead, I could value myself enough to know that my time and affection are better spent elsewhere. What haven’t you forgiven yourself for? How does that residual blame bleed into your relationships?
4. No one can tell you what forgiveness looks like. It’s personal:
Self-explanatory. Our loved ones love to see us moving forward, but no one can tell us when or how forgiveness will show up. Every day for me is a process of forgiveness — deep forgiveness of self and others. It’s something I think I’ll be exploring for years to come. Not because I am unusually bitter and angry, but because (God willing) life is long and hurt happens easily. When you’re ready to let it go, you will.
5. Forgiveness isn’t necessarily the absence of anger. It’s simply a greater amount of love:
I’ve been having a love affair with anger lately. Growing up, anger wasn’t really something that was expressed in our home (hi mom), so I realize that I’m not really sure what it is or why it exists. Also, when you get out into the world, no one wants you to be angry – people are always trying to calm you down. The truth is, though, anger feels a little bit empowering. It feels better than depression and despair, that’s for sure. So, I think you can still forgive someone and have a little bit of leftover anger in your freezer. I think the key is, though, that there’s more love and healing energy in your heart than anger. If the scale tips in the favor of love, I’d say you’re living in the energy of forgiveness; however, if you’re tuned into all anger all the time – it might be time to take a look at letting go.
That’s all I’ve got so far, but I’m hoping to start reading “Radical Self-Forgiveness” and “Radical Forgiveness” sometime in the near future (I’m currently reading like 40 books, this may take a while). I’ll share whatever ah-ha moments I have with you! In the meantime, share yours with me! What does forgiveness look like to you?