Forgiveness might be the hardest thing. When you’re hurt. When you’re wronged. When they’re deserving of your contempt, your hatred, your vengeance.
Browsing online tonight, I came upon something – a plea from a father looking for help with his son, a boy he had become estranged from for many years following his divorce.
The kid had been sent to live with him recently because the mother had developed an addiction to whatever substance and was no longer able to care for herself, let alone another.
After all that neglect, and all that abandonment, the now teenage kid has problems.
He acts out. He has relationships with older men. He hates the father, and tells him every day – both in his words, and his actions.
Everyone online began chiming in with parenting advice – how he has to be firmer, he has to talk to the boy, he has to establish rules and enforce them.
Some said he has to listen, or pray, give up, or send him off. A lot just ripped him apart – blaming him for everything, as if he’d purposely been absent from the kid’s life all those years his ex-wife refused to let him see him.
Most, though, just felt pretty sorry for him, and sorry for what had become of his family.
They saw a home pretty much wrecked and broken; a child doing everything he could to ruin his life; a father crying out, desperate to help a troubled and spiraling son.
I saw the kid most of all.
I saw a kid who needs help dealing with what’s been dealt to him.
A teen with the ability to be better, but too stuck in the pain of his past to let himself be so.
A boy who’d need forgiveness, if he’s ever to become a man.
Here was a child whose family had completely disintegrated in a matter of a few years, though a family that was obviously never healthy to begin with.
For the entirety of his childhood, he was witness to the fighting of his parents. He saw their anger and scorn, their vengeance and hate.
He was subject to their neglect, the object of their abandonment.
And I’m sure it sucked.
But despite it all, at least there was a continuity and familiarity to it. And so he was largely able to handle it for awhile, despite his parents’ fighting, despite their mistakes.
But then, his parents divorce. His father leaves for years. And his mother develops an addiction. And suddenly there’s no food on the table, no one home when he gets home, no one to depend upon, trust, believe in.
A broken home. Bad freaking parents.
And when his mother finally hits rock-bottom, he’s shipped to (of all people) the man who abandoned him. And now everyday this man – essentially a stranger despite being his father – tells him he loves him, and that he’s ready to be now what he was not before…
And the thing is…he’s sincere. It really did seem so.
The father does care. He does love him. He does want – more than anything – to see their lives improve, to see them be and become closer.
But, do you think the son believes him? Do you think he trusts him? Does he have a reason to at all?
He hasn’t forgiven him. He hasn’t let go.
He doesn’t want to.
…is a weird thing. We demand it all the time. We demand apologies all the time – from loved ones, from strangers, from companies even too.
But we never truly accept these apoligies. We never forgive.
The woman who discovers her husband’s infidelity demands he make amends. She establishes conditions on taking him back. She sets rules for his future conduct. She asks for an apology – a sincere and genuine admission of his guilt and remorse – and a promise that he will be better.
He gives her all this. Maybe he doesn’t mean it. But maybe – like so often’s the case – he truly does.
But ever since they “worked it out” she’s become more possessive. She checks his phone, his emails, his alibis. She demands to know where he is and who he’s with. And worse yet, in every mundane argument – about bills, about the house, about the kids – she brings up the affair as leverage.
“You did that, and so you owe me this.”
“How can I trust you now?”
No matter what happens and who’s at fault he is always to blame – because it was him who did that horrible thing however long ago.
He’s reminded, then, of what he did everyday, both of his own personal guilt, and because she holds it over him at every possible opportunity.
Was there forgiveness?
The boy in the story was mistreated and abandoned.
His father left him. His mother couldn’t care for him. When the parents separated, they lied to him and used him as means of revenge on each other. His life, his feelings, his well-being were always secondary to their hate of each other. Now his father has returned and genuinely wants to repair what’s been done. He’s apologized and done everything he can think of to make it right, but the boy continues to act out. He’s made his father’s suffering the sole purpose of his life, and he’s doing a damn good job.
Was there forgiveness?
When I was younger, I was pretty much the same kinda jerk.
When someone would piss me off, I would simply shut down. I wouldn’t hide from them. I wouldn’t even necessarily avoid them. But I stopped talking to them, and I held this emotionless, cold face if they’d speak to me. In my mind, they didn’t even deserve an expression, an acknowledgment, my attention at all. They became a ghost to me, and it would stay that way – I would stay that way – sometimes for weeks, until whatever arbitrary conditions in my mind had been met, or until I simply couldn’t stand the energy it took being so pissed off.
Sometimes they wouldn’t even know what they did. It was most often something they had just said, likely something about me being shy or unable to talk to people, or maybe something that made me feel weak and useless, as I did feel inside. They’d get angry, asking me what was wrong and why I was acting like that. And it just made me angrier that they couldn’t figure it out themselves.
There was no forgiveness.
…I would not be the man I am today without forgiveness.
I would not be able to function, to smile, to be happy, if I still held inside every grudge, every mistake, every wrong never avenged. And you cannot overcome your personal broken home without forgiveness.
You can’t move on if you continue to dwell upon the past. You can’t be healed when you pick at wounds long since made whole. You can’t claim to be innocent if you forever exploit what has befallen you and those who’ve hurt you as the means and ammunition to exact suffering on those people, or any other.
Most think forgiveness is simply accepting an apology, and so that’s what they do. They demand an apology. They argue, and blame, and guilt, and they receive it. They tell the other that everything is fine and that they can both now “move on”.
But they don’t.
Because in their minds, the wrong committed has created a debt to be repaid, and whether now or in the future, they feel a need and a right to be made whole.
So they ignore the person (as I did), or act out (as the boy does), or abandon their trust in their partner (as the wife does) until that person “earns” that trust once more.
And so what was a single mistake made, or several mistakes made, in the foolishness of someone’s past, becomes a burden they bear forever, until the person wronged decides they have done enough, endured enough, suffered enough.
Or, maybe things do somewhat return to normal. Maybe they do let it go. But only for a time. Only until they too commit their own wrong, at which point they say:
“But you did it to me first.”
What the fuck…
That is NOT forgiveness. And it’s no more right than the wrong you feel you are righting.
Forgiving someone begins…
…with understanding everyone.
Because forgiveness is not possible without empathy. Fixing your broken home is not possible without empathy.
Because, as a product of their own circumstances, as we all are, these people who hurt you became who they are, and – given their circumstances and beliefs – could have been no other. They are who you would be if you had learned what they learned, experienced what they experienced, and lived the lives that they live. If you were these people, put in that same situation, having become the people they are because of the things they have seen, you would behave as they behave and think as they think. You would do just as they have done. You would do the exact same thing.
“There but for the grace of God…”
This doesn’t mean they are without blame, of course. Because actions have consequences. And those who wrong others rightly suffer those consequences.
If the wife leaves the husband, for instance, because of what he has done and done to her – if that’s what she decides is best life for her and the proper punishment to him - then so be it.
He earned that fate.
But don’t feign forgiveness.
Don’t use forgiveness as a means of revenge, a weapon to be weilded, a card in your pocket. Don’t accept someone’s sincere apology as a bludgeon against they you claim to have forgiven.
It’s wrong. And it’s not forgiveness.
So, screw forgiveness…
Screw demanding apologies to collect and to stow.
Because the problem with forgiveness is that it’s an imaginary remedy for a problem which doesn’t exist.
We demand apologies because they cement in the relationship that they are wrong and that we are the victim. We get a certain and perverse pleasure out of this, out of having wounds to lick, out of the power and authority that those wounds allow us to possess over the other person.
They commit a wrong, but we gain control.
They screw us over, but we are superior.
But the truest forgiveness comes from the acknowledgment that there is nothing to forgive; that another’s words, another’s behaviors, another’s decisions have no effect on our well-being – no matter how painful it may seem, or wrong they may be.
Because no matter what might have been said, or what might have been done; no matter what injury they may have caused, or scar they may have inflicted, you are still You.
They didn’t touch it truly. They can never touch it truly.
That’s realizing that another’s words and actions can only cut so deep – as deep as you let it, as deep as you allow it, as deep as you choose to believe it.
But as people we rarely evoke such forgiveness – the only real forgiveness.
We never truly forgive, or forget, or let go.
We never let ourselves be the better person – our best person – choosing vengeance instead, and hatred instead; feigning our imagined or long since healed injuries for days, for months, for years.
To no one’s benefit. To our own ruin.
Until we realize that forgiveness itself is useless. Because forgiveness can only exist where there is a victim.
But you are not a victim.
Quit pretending to be one because someone called you a name, or broke your trust.
Quit feeling you’re owed sympathy or sadness because someone left, or never returned.
You are still You.
And if I have a broken heart today because of what someone has said or done to me yesterday, it is because I am – in some way – weak enough inside as to derive all sense of my happiness and comfort from their acceptance, their behaviors, their very presence in my life.
If I have a broken heart today, it is because I am weak enough to be even capable of such a broken heart – of such depression or anger based on the words and actions of another.
Anger’s fine for a time. A period of mourning is normal. Hurt is understandable.
But people rarely keep it at that.
They draw it out. They keep the wound fresh as long as they can – months, years, a lifetime into the future so that their victim identity, their sob story, can endure. So that they can say that what has become of their life is the fault of another, and thus absolve themselves of any responsibility for how they feel and how they are.
Let go, though…
Not just in word, but in reality.
Forget that shit that’s long since passed, and long since hurt.
Forget their words. Forget their actions. Forget them.
Or forgive them.
Truly forgive them.
There are no other options. None other that help you or improve you. None that heal you or free them.
Because that day of hurt and pain is dead and gone.
You should be smiling now.
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