All religions teach forgiveness. My family had its share of anger, resentment, and violence. It was hard for me to understand why God wanted me to worry about my faults when I had deep trauma inside due to the actions of another.
I did not understand what God wanted. I thought I was required to pardon the person who screamed at me daily if I wanted God to forgive me. Children like equal parts. If you give three children candy, they all want each kid to get the same amount. Forgiving a man who beat me did not seem equal when my sin was wishing I had not married him. My thoughts had not hurt anyone, but I was afraid God would not let me into heaven if I did not forgive others for everything they did to me. I had to forgive if I wanted to go to heaven, but none of this seemed fair.
It has taken fifty years, but I am quite sure I understand what God was trying to teach me now! If you are struggling with this idea, keep reading. However, I must tell you that it doesn’t happen quickly.
First, you must unclutter your mind. I think of my brain like an office. It has files in cabinets with stored information. Some of the files are disorganized, fragmented, or just unnecessary. I spend years going through the files trying to shred useless ones, or reorganizing others into useful information. My analogy refers to counseling, self-help books, medication, diet changes, weight loss, exercise, writing, etc. Each time I began to try to change my heart, I became bogged down, depressed, and sad. I gave up each time thinking that I truly was the worthless little girl who would not go to heaven.
Did any of that help me? Yes, it did. I learned a great deal about healing. The most effective tool I took away from all of it was positive thinking. There are a million free sources of positive ideas to ponder. I chose one thought each day and carried it with me on a paper to read and think about throughout the day. The positive thoughts began to root within me much like flowers root in the dirt. Like the petals of a rose opening, I started to feel nice. I began to see the beauty in everyday objects. I planted some ugly iris bulbs someone gave me, and found joy watching them grow and bloom.
When did forgiveness play a part? As I became more positive, I matured and realized that human beings each have a path. We are each filled with a past, a present, and a future. If I could change like this, so could anyone. I began to feel compassion and empathy toward strangers. The beggar, the criminal, the overwhelmed mother, the sassy boss are all just like me, struggling to understand our lives. My children’s father did horrible things to me and my children, but something wonderful drew me to him in the first place. He had good traits, too. As I began to use perspective and look at his life which was much like my own childhood, how could I hate him any longer? The hatred disappeared and understanding took its place. He did not know how to handle his demons any more than I. Finally, one day I realized that I no longer felt badly toward him. Instead, I had peace. This was it! This was what forgiveness feels like!
At that point, I said it aloud. I called his name and then said, “I forgive you.” I did not free him from his responsibility, nor did I trust him again. Instead, I let go of the pain within myself. The resentment and hate caused me pain, and it held me back from happiness and joy.
It was at that moment when I realized that the Sunday School teachers, my parents, some of the ministers, and maybe half the world did not understand the concept of forgiveness as taught in the bible, and other ancient sacred writings. God wants all of his children to have happiness and joy. He is much like any parent except that he is better at it than us. He probably said seventy times seven because it takes at least 490 positive thoughts to root out one negative. He knew it would take a great deal of time to ponder forgiveness and complete the process. He knew that if we have ill feelings in our mind, we will continue to live in pain.
Forgiving those who trespass us means that we stop thinking about the pain they inflicted upon us. We stop thinking of ways to get even. We stop wishing they would get what they deserve in the way of punishment. The focus becomes on ourselves, and we replace the negative with the positive. Young children want wrongs to be righted. They want to see their rival punished. Adults need to learn that as God’s children, we can learn to help ourselves have peace by letting go of the punishment side of right and wrong. Our governments, religions, organizations, and social mores have procedures in place for correction. Body and mind cleansing forgiveness does not need revenge, compensation, nor retribution. It is for the forgiver more than the offender.
My personal experience with the most difficult case of forgiveness was toward my mother. It was fifty-seven years after my birth that I finally became willing and able to break the chains of blame, criticism, and fault that I heaped upon her. Mama was stubborn and she loved hard. She loved me dearly, and in some ways, she was a good mother. However, she made mistakes that no longer matter. It is amazing how much peace I feel NOW as I write about her. I pondered over my raising and my adult relationship with her, I understood that the bad parts didn’t matter. She passed away twenty years ago, yet I allowed her to cause me a great deal of pain. She was no longer here.
I was causing this pain!
Before I tell you what happened, you must understand that I am not associated with any religion, nor am I an emotional woman. I am not too sure about what I believe as far as God is concerned. I accept that God exists, but I don’t need to know more than that. I just live the best way I can, love with all my heart, and laugh as much as possible. I knew that I had to stop obsessing over the past and start living peacefully for my future. Music was my means of finding forgiveness for her. I enjoy Brandon Heath, and one day I had my playlist featuring his songs on while I quilted. Quilting is repetitious, and I wasn’t paying attention to the music. All of a sudden, tears came to my eyes, and I stopped the sewing machine. I felt a powerful urge to talk to my mama and my daddy. They both had passed away, so this is what happened. I began speaking aloud.
Mama and Daddy, I need to talk to y’all. I want you both to know that I am okay. I know you did the best you could raising me, but I have struggled with some unkind feelings toward you for years. I loved y’all with all my heart, and I blamed all the bad parts on you, Mama. I know you and Daddy had your problems, and that it was not all on you. Daddy, I know you weren’t perfect, but I wanted it to be true. All the stuff y’all had going on is for you to work out up there, but for me… I’m good. ( the tears flowed hard) I forgive you both for the bad stuff. I mean it. Mama, I forgive and accept your love unconditionally. Daddy, I always loved you, but I forgive you for your part, too.
That was all. I cried for an hour. Then I wondered what precipitated the event. I looked up the song lyrics that played thinking they had been profound. Nope. The song wasn’t suggestive for the moment. It was the years of preparation. It was the mindfulness I practiced, deep thought, letting go of the hate, wanting to forgive, awareness of the problem, all of it together came to a climax. At that moment, I let go of my condemnation of my parents. Their faults are theirs to handle. I have plenty of my faults to overcome. I don’t need a backpack full of everyone else’s problems. Since that day, I have not felt one minute of negativity toward my mother again.
I hope you noticed as you read that I did not approve of the actions of the man who beat me and my children. I did not tell my mother it was okay for her to emotionally abuse me. I did not condone my father’s temper. Each of those behaviors belongs to someone else. I didn’t do those things, so I have no business executing judgment over the person who did. I do have my list of bad behaviors to work out, and I am seeking forgiveness from those whom I have offended. That is another piece of writing.
We as human beings are made better by opening our hearts and accepting peace when we forgive other humans for their behavior. Do we need to trust that person again? No. Is it wrong to separate ourselves from that person after we forgive? No. We do not need to punish the other person, but protecting ourselves from further hurt is okay. Kindness, compassion, and love are the keys, and only we can use those keys to start the vehicle that will lead us to a great deal of joy!