Do we REALLY have to forgive to move on? Should we really just forget all that’s happened, as if it didn’t at all? Should we just trust these people who hurt us? I mean, is there EVEN such a thing as forgiveness, anyway?
The answers – though not for the reasons you’d expect – are “No”…
While rummaging through this totally new thing called the internet this eve, I came upon a plea from a father seeking help in dealing with his son, who he had estranged for many years after his divorce from the mother (sadness).
The boy was recently sent to live with him because the mother had developed an addiction to some worthless habit and was no longer able to care for herself, let alone the boy.
Needless to say, the now teenage kid has problems. He acts out. He has relationships with older men. He HATES the father, and reminds him of it everyday.
Of course, everyone immediately 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 freaking ripped him apart instead, blaming him for everything.
Most, though, just felt pretty sorry for him and what had become of his family. They saw a home pretty much wrecked and ruined, and a child without rules and boundaries; a father desperate to help a troubled son, and a kid who needed serious medication and counseling.
I dunno, though. I just wasn’t concerned with the father. I only saw the kid.
I saw a kid who needs help in 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, and with no knowledge of how to let go. I saw The Last Broken Home type of broken home.
Because here was a child whose family had completely disintegrated in a matter of a few years, though a family that was obviously NEVER great to begin with. For the entirety of his childhood, then, he was witness to the fighting of his parents. He saw their anger and scorn, and their vengeance and hate.
I’m sure it SUCKED.
But at least there was a continuity and familiarity to it. And so he was largely able to handle it for awhile, despite the growing anger that surely bristled just beneath his outwardly fine exterior.
But then, his parents divorce. His father leaves for years. And his mother becomes an addict. And now there’s no food on the table, and no one dependable or loving to for him to trust or believe in.
A messed up home. Bad freaking parents.
When his mother finally hits rock-bottom, he’s shipped to (of all people) the man who abandoned him. 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 father IS sincere. He really DOES care. But do you think the son believes or trusts in him at all? Does he have a single reason to?
Of course not. He hasn’t forgiven him. He hasn’t let go.
The Irony of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is so weird. We demand apologies ALL THE TIME – from loved ones, from strangers, from companies even.
But we never truly accept them. 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 he TRULY does.
But 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.”
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 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. 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 forgot about it.
Usually 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.
You Have to Let Go
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. You cannot overcome your personal broken home without forgiveness. You cannot move on if you continue to dwell upon and re-live the past; if you exploit what has befallen you and those who’ve hurt you as a means to exact suffering on others.
Many believe 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 once more “earns” that trust.
What was a single mistake made, or many mistakes made, in the foolishness of someone’s past, becomes a burden they bear forever, until the person wronged decides they have suffered enough.
Or, maybe things do somewhat return to normal, but only for a time – until we commit our OWN wrong, at which point we say: “But you did it to me first.”
That is NOT forgiveness, and it’s no more right than the wrong you feel you are righting.
Forgiving Someone Begins With Understanding Everyone
Forgiveness is not possible without empathy. Fixing your broken home is not possible without empathy.
As a product of their own circumstances, as we all are, these people who hurt us 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, because actions have consequences. If the wife leaves the husband because of what he has done, for instance – if that’s what she decides is best for her – then so be it.
But do not feign forgiveness. Do not use forgiveness as a means of revenge.
His problems belong to him, and the distrust, the questioning, the general inquisition she places upon his privacy does little to help, and likely only reinforces the reasons for his actions.
The problem with forgiveness is that it is 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 screwed 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 at the time.
Because how can a partner’s infidelity ACTUALLY hurt you? It speaks ONLY of them. End the relationship or keep it, but it is them who lose. You are still you.
How can a loved one’s words hurt you? It speaks only of them. Ignore it or fight it, but it is them who look foolish. You are still you.
And how can a father’s absence hurt you? It speaks only of him. Give him another chance or give him no chance in hell, but it’s him who lost out. You are still you.
But as people we rarely evoke such forgiveness, the ONLY real forgiveness. Instead, we hurt and injure others, and feign hurt and injury in ourselves.
But 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. Quit feeling you’re owed sympathy or sadness for everything that may happen to you.
If I have a broken heart today, for instance, 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 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.
Do not confuse this though. A period of mourning and anger is normal and 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 – endures. So that they can say that what has become of their life is the fault of another, and thus absolve themselves of ANY responsibility.
Time to Move On
Let go, though. Not just in word, but in reality.
Just forget all the pain others cause you, cause what does it give you anyway?
Have empathy for your ex, your bully, your friends, your siblings, your parents. Have understanding for the messed up lives they must live to have become what they became.
Don’t let people walk over you, but neither let them defeat you. Because refusal to do so enables those people you hate – their actions, their decisions – to rule and control your life still.
That day of hurt and pain is dead and gone.
You should be smiling now.
What About YOU?
What do you think about forgiveness or my strange take on it. Maybe it’s cool. Maybe it’s way weird. Lemme know below, and take a moment to share it!!!