on: forgiveness

Here in our passive aggressive or all up your face society there is little in between and mostly polar opposite but one thing we all do well is bitterness. We are good at bitterness. We look at each other with our badges of anger and pain and hatred and nod in approval, because they did us wrong, those people that left us like this, they hurt us and they deserve to rot in hell for it. Or at the very least, since you know, kindness, they deserve to be given hell for it. But still make it into heaven, because, that’s what Jesus would want. Bitterness lets us get lazy and complacent in our lives, it lets us sit back and be mean and be crazy and rage against them, whoever ‘they’ are instead of taking ownership of the reaction that we allow to build up inside of us. 
Forgiveness, on the other hand, requires us to hold the pain and the bitterness in two separate hands and realize that they do not have to come together. Pain does not mean you have to get hard and cold and silent, pain might just mean you hurt for a while or maybe forever, but you learn something. That’s what forgiveness does. It makes you take ownership of your life again instead of letting it be controlled by the basic repercussions of someone else's actions.  

Ah yes, forgiveness. 

Church people like to make forgiveness sound a lot easier than it is, a lot less messy and a lot less angry. Church people say that we are to forgive as if we can make that happen in the blink of an eye, because Jesus forgives us and our chasms of sins, so how can we not forgive those who sin against us? And I always feel bad when they talk about that, a little guilty. Because forgiveness is hard for me, it always has been. Not for slights or strangers, but for the people I thought I could rely on, bitterness is the fire I’ve swallowed that I cannot put out even when I try my hardest.  Forgiving the ugly kinds of betrayal, while essential to living a full and happy life, is hard and when the church people make it sound like it should be easy I feel like I am failing no matter how hard I try. 

But forgiveness isn’t easy, not even for God. 

What? I know, is that sacrilegious? I’m not sure. 

But please look at the Bible, at the God we find there. 
We have the vengeful, jealous God we all identify with that destroyed entire nations and didn’t let Moses cross into the promised land because he disobeyed Him that one time. We have the angry God that had lists of rules and expectations for us humans to follow to make up for the overwhelming sin that separated us from Him. God in a lot of ways was that crazy ex-girlfriend who went crazy because you cheated on her. And like, he had a right to (but then again so did she), but that was God before Jesus. Before grace. (Please don’t think I’m saying God didn’t forgive the people before Jesus- although he did literally smite some of them from the face of the earth- I don’t think he didn’t forgive them and I also don’t have a fully formed opinion on the subject to participate an actual argument about it with you.) The point is that Jesus had to die in order for God to forgive us. We talk about forgiveness and grace like it’s easy sometimes, but it took Jesus dying in order for us to be redeemed. 

Death. Literal, ugly, real life, last breath, death. 

Lately my heart cry is that I will wake up and the pain and the feeling of betrayal and the bitterness will all be gone and this beautiful, light, airy forgiveness will settle over me the way the sunlight charms the earth at golden hour. But forgiveness doesn’t work like that. Forgiveness takes effort, it takes waking up every morning with the wounds still bleeding and bandaging them even when it feels pointless, even when you know you’ll have to change the bandages again in a few hours, or minutes, or seconds. 
Forgiveness is hard. When we pretend that it’s easy we minimize the love Jesus had for us but also the mountains we as humans climb to find forgiveness. We say things like ‘forgive and forget’ or ‘you just need to forgive him and move on’ but real life is harder than just a cliche line. Real life is calling a truce, laying down the armor and the bitterness and the pain and saying hey it’s ok, we’re all human. 
Holding onto the bitterness is a million and one times easier, it’s the soft, warm blanket that you can cozy into. Bitterness tells you that you were right, and they were wrong. Bitterness justifies your anger and pain and loneliness, it tells you that you have every single right to hate them with everything in you. 

But you don’t. 

In case no one told you, you’re human too. 
You’re made of the same stuff, the same mess and the same anger and the same pain. We all hurt people, we’re all broken and sometimes our everlasting brokenness collides with the brokenness of others and people end up getting cut by the shards. 
Pain is a real thing, pain is a powerful thing that sets you at a crossroads between bitterness and forgiveness. It sets you right there with a fiery hot iron ready to brand you just like that and say who you’re going to be right then and there. Who are you going to be when you walk out of the fire? 

I read this book recently called Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lammott and I could talk for probably a year about all of the things her words in those pages stirred in my heart, but one quotes stands out to me now, she writes, in regards to a heart breaking: 
“We dishonor it if we pretend that it hadn’t gotten broken. 
We value this enough to repair it.” 
What I have learned is that the first step to forgiveness is recognizing the pain, acknowledging that you’re neck deep and don’t know how to swim through this tidal wave that is crashing down around you. That’s where you start. Because until you recognize that your heart is yes, beating, but still broken you’re just going to try to fill the holes with people or things or bitterness or places. And that isn’t ever going to get you anywhere, at all. The silly rebound crushes, the running aways to new places with new people, the swirl of whatever bandaid you’re choosing is temporary, and your wounds can’t begin to heal until you admit that you’re wounded in the first place. 

About a month and a half ago I was talking to my counselor about this boy whom I love. I told her the story of how we came to be, where we were then, and how in that moment I was afraid that I did not love him as much as he loved me. 
She said, “Of course you don’t. Of course you don’t, because you have not let go of the pain that he has caused you for years. You haven’t forgiven him for that and you can’t give him your whole heart until you forgive him.” 
I walked out of that room and looked at my phone, weeping for the bitterness I held in the smallest corner of my heart for this boy who loved me so well, and I had a text from him. He’d woken up in the middle of his sleep and texted me to tell me just how much he loved me, and then went back to sleep. The first time he hurt me deeply I didn’t sit in the pain, and it followed me in our relationship two years later, the whole heart love I felt was dimmed because I had pushed that hurt deep deep down instead of allowing it to show me what it needed to teach me. 

So that’s the second step, if we’re really calling these steps, sit in your pain. If your pain is a thunderstorm I want you to walk out in it without an umbrella and cry so hard you can’t tell if your face is soaked from tears or raindrops. If your pain is an ocean I want you to swim out in the deep deep of the sea, to the rip currents and angry waves and let them crash over you until you are so broken you can barely swim. Go to the depths. Whatever you identify your pain as, go there. Touch it, feel it, hold it tightly, not gently, take it by the shoulders and shake it. This pain is yours, own it. (I know we don’t do that a lot as a society, but trust me here.) Get to know your pain, the ins and outs of it— the reasons it hurts so much, the questions you have, where it started, what it looks like, what its name is. Allow yourself to make room for your pain instead of trying to push it out because it is inevitably there to teach you something, if you allow it. 
Here, in the knowing, you will find the purpose to your pain. Without a doubt that’s cliche, but it’s true. So so so true. I tell you from the front row seat to the horror show that is my broken heart that pain has purpose when you let it. It will teach you things, it will change you. And when you get to know it, when you accept it as it is, it will change you for the better. 

Lately I have been riding with the music off in my car a lot, sobbing loudly and angrily, saying all of the things I have not had the courage to say to God for a while. I cry a lot, and when I say a lot, I mean every day multiple times a day: I arrive late with a tear stained face and we smile and say we’re just tired and move about our day. Because we are tired, I am, this heavy weight of bitterness is overdue for being let go. I make jokes about crying a lot because that makes people more comfortable and accepting of awkward teary eyed people who don’t know how to be in places chock full of memories yet. But most of all I say the words, the good and the bad ones. I say it honestly, the good memories and the bad memories. I tell the stories that have left me weeping because that is what it looks like for me, the admitting, the sitting in it. But most of all, the letting go.
I told the story again tonight, of the brokenness that is my heart and how it got to be there, and when I said it I realized I wasn’t angry anymore. I wasn’t bitter. Sad yes, missing him, lonely, uncertain, yes: but the anger and the bitterness wasn’t there. I didn’t get mad when I told the story anymore, I didn’t feel the sharp stab of betrayal in my heart when I repeated the words he used. And over and over again I thought: ‘okay, truce.’ 
I had been battling this war of bitterness and anger and betrayal with a person who didn’t even know it, and there in the space left by the absence of the anger, was a white flag. A peace sign. A truce that said I don’t want to have to keep telling this story anymore, I don’t want to have to keep carrying this sadness anymore. 
And that is the letting go. In that, you find forgiveness. 

But one thing is true, and no one likes to tell you this part: your heart still hurts even when you let the bitterness go. Forgiveness doesn’t turn your bleeding wounds into skin fresh as the day you met the world, it helps them heal, find their way from gaping hole to scar. I don’t think I’m going to stop crying any time soon, I don’t think letting go of the anger and the bitterness will make me miss him less or make me feel less lonely or make everything ok. It just means that I’m not fighting this war anymore, that this battle is over before it’s killed all of the beauty left inside of me. Because that’s what bitterness does, it’s the plague that kills the flowers that grow in your heart of hearts. And no one is worth losing yourself over. 

So you let go, and you feel less crazy. You let go and you realize that it’s ok to be sad about the pain and the words and the leaving, because it isn’t a race to get better. It isn’t a battle over who was right and who was wrong and whose fault it was, forgiveness puts you back on the same side. The human side. The broken side. 

Forgiveness says, ‘Okay, this was shitty. Really shitty. And it’s okay to be sad about it: be sad about it. But let’s start to find the beauty in it again, in life again. Let’s start to put the pieces together, different this time, but still worthy.’

You will find freedom here, a new lesson, a new scar, a new battle wound that screams that you made it. 

You did. You had every single right to be bitter and angry and spit on them when they passed you by on the street and you chose forgiveness. You chose to be better than the parts of yourself that wanted to cling to the anger because it felt righteous, it felt right.

And that's kind, that's good- those things in themselves are the very best ways to be.


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