Chapter 17

This is not a tool which can be instantly acquired for your toolkit:

FORGIVENESS

Just for the record: Revenge is never one of the tools in your kit. That tool belongs to God. In our hands, it is a toxic acid. Besides, what pleasure is there in breaking someone who is already broken?

That being said, I must confess that when I read a book or watch a television show or movie where justice is carried out, yes, I cheer out loud. Do I fantasize about revenge, sometimes? Yes. I also know it isn’t something I truly want to carry out.

I don’t have the option to choose justice for them and mercy for me. If I want mercy, I must give mercy. Not that it’s easy. We come back to me not being perfect, but I am trying to be a better person, every day.

In a blog I read recently, this question was asked: How does one go about forgiving? It was a great question. Another blogger commented that there’s a book they recommended. But I admitted that I wanted something right now. In trying to sort through some struggles of my own with the subject, I found myself finally able to put into words some thoughts I’ve been developing on it.

Over and over, I’d heard it stated, and come to understand for myself, that forgiveness isn’t about the other person that hurt me; it’s about me. It’s about me turning over the hurt, bitterness, and pain to God, and letting God take care of it. Now, that doesn’t mean that I sit and wait for God to dish out revenge on my behalf, though I’ve been tempted, from time to time. That isn’t forgiveness; that’s still wanting to even the score.

I also have been “called on the carpet” by others that I need to forgive and forget. But if I forget, what will I have learned?

First, I had to learn that forgiveness and trust are not interchangeable. It is possible and sometimes highly advisable to forgive but not to trust a person.

Remember, forgiveness is about me, not them. They may or may not change, and making sure they change will never be my responsibility.

It is my responsibility to take care of myself, to not place myself in situations that put me at risk. For myself, I feel like someone who expects me to put myself in a position to be hurt is not only sadistic, but they expect me to be masochistic. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Okay. Fine. I “get” that. So why does it seem to be taking so long to make forgiveness a part of my life? I’m not perfect. Sometimes, it’s difficult to turn it all over to God. He has His own way and time to do things, and I freely confess that I don’t “get” that. He is all powerful, all knowing, and all everything for a reason, and I’m not. I’m okay with that. I’m glad He is, because it means He “gets” what I struggle with, and blessedly, He is willing to keep working with me, no matter what.

Then something else occurred to me. Part of forgiving them is forgiving me. And sometimes, it isn’t about forgiving but about grieving. Grieving the loss of all that I had hoped for the relationship, grieving the loss of feeling safe with that person, grieving the loss of faith in myself, in my ability to protect my own boundaries. Grieving that I thought I understood someone and then learning that I didn’t, and then realizing that I don’t want to understand them because what they value doesn’t fit with my code of ethics or my values — or maybe it did at one time, and doesn’t any longer, because I have changed.

Then again, sometimes, I’m in such a hurry to get it over with — forgive and move on — grieve and move on — because I don’t want to hurt anymore. I forget to take the opportunity to truly accept what God has placed before me, an opportunity to grow, to develop a deeper understanding of myself, to gain a new perspective, to become a better person because forgiveness isn’t about them, it’s about me. It’s about turning to my Savior and admitting that I can’t do it. He has to do this. Only He can do this. This is why He suffered in Gethsemane: For me. So that forgiveness would work for me.

Back in the chapter on grieving, I stated that I didn’t need to seek forgiveness from myself for what happened because I hadn’t done anything wrong except exist in the same sphere as an abuser. Not my fault. That’s like saying the grass needs to be forgiven for growing where it’s planted.

This is an example of needing to forgive me: Forgiving myself for beating myself up, for having unreasonable expectations of myself, for punishing myself.

I grew up with so many contradictions, and yet I tried to fill dual rolls. For example: I often heard, “Hold still!” “Stop fidgeting!” “If you don’t stop squirming, I’m going to smack you.” So, I learned to hold still. Very still. Then I’d hear, “Why don’t you get out more?” “You need to exercise more.” “If you would only start moving more, you’d look so much better.”

In my effort to please those responsible for me, I was set up to fail. No one is capable of doing opposite things at the same time with any kind of success. I needed to forgive myself not for failing, but for being angry with myself for trying to do what had been asked of me. I also needed to forgive myself for using the Scriptures to whip myself. “With God, nothing is impossible.” I needed to forgive myself for believing there was something wrong with me when I failed to accomplish the impossible. “With God, nothing is impossible.” I needed to forgive myself of using one verse independent of other verses, because that’s how my abusers controlled me. The three-legged stool: Love God, Love neighbor, Love self. Trying to “hold still” and “move more” is not loving self.

I needed to forgive myself for trying to please my abusers instead of trying to please God. I need to forgive myself for being angry that I didn’t recognize sooner that I was seeking to please the wrong power in my life.

What all that comes down to is that I tried to be obedient as a child, and I tried to be obedient as an adult. In doing so, I, unfortunately, allowed my priorities to be dictated by others. Granted, in large part, it is because it’s what I knew and understood. That being said, I did learn, finally, and I did start changing. Now, I find that I need to forgive myself for not recognizing that change is a way of saying, “I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”

Let me explain that last sentence further. An apology is something verbal, either spoken or written. It’s the words. “I’m sorry.” “I apologize.” “I regret.” “Please forgive me.”

I was going to say that an apology is part of the forgiveness process, but in truth, it isn’t. If I can’t forgive until the person who offended me apologizes, then that person effectively traps me and ties me to them, for as long as they want. It leaves them in control.

An apology is nice. It acknowledges that a mistake has been made AND that something will be done to rectify, reverse, recompense. It is admitting a wrong and promising a change. I find it annoying and hypocritical if someone apologizes without any intent to change the behavior that caused the problem in the first place. What was the point of apologizing? If the person isn’t going to change, then please save everyone’s time and don’t say anything at all. If they aren’t going to change, then an apology is a lie. If you aren’t sorry enough to change, then you aren’t really sorry. My perspective.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, isn’t so much something you say, as it’s something you do. And it isn’t about the offending party, it’s about the person who was offended. If someone offends me, then they may ask for forgiveness (an apology), but I decided whether or not I grant that forgiveness. Whether or not I grant forgiveness may or may not affect the person who offended me, but it most certainly does affect me.

I’ve been on the receiving end of some amazing apologies and some pretty pathetic apologies. In fact, some of the latter weren’t an apology, so much as an opportunity to lay the blame at my door, while the offending party comes off looking pious. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve received apologies that came off making me look like the one who had done something wrong.

In case you were wondering, here’s a contrast for you: I’m sorry if you thought I was judgmental. I’m sorry if you were hurt. I’m sorry you misunderstood. I’m sorry you didn’t understand that I was only trying to show you I love you. I’m sorry you thought your life was miserable. I’m sorry you took my meaning wrong.

Did you see what happened there? In each instance, the “apology” was neatly turned around and blame was placed on the other person. The person apologizing did not accept responsibility for their behavior, but instead blamed the behavior of the other person.

My all-time most disliked form of lying apology: “I love you, you know.” Actually, no I don’t. And saying “I love you” is never a substitute for saying, “I’m sorry.” Ever.

Now, this is what an apology looks like: I am sorry. I am sorry I was judgmental. I am sorry I made your life miserable. I am sorry I hurt you. I am sorry I treated you like you were too stupid to know your own mind. I am sorry I loved you the way I needed to love you and not the way you needed to be loved. I am sorry I was selfish. I am sorry I tried to make you into what I wanted/needed and did what I could to squash you into that ill-fitting mold. I am sorry I belittled you. I am sorry I disrespected you. I am sorry I have not taken responsibility for my poor/bad behavior. I am sorry I keep putting the blame on you. I was wrong. I am sorry.

The words are important, but they are only the beginning. They must be followed by actions, i.e., I promise I will not belittle you or those you love. I promise I will respect you and your decisions. I promise I will only have as much contact with you as you are comfortable with because I know I betrayed your trust. I promise not to try to justify my bad behavior. I promise to respect your boundaries.

And then do it.

Start with yourself. As you practice with yourself, you’ll begin to make it a part of who you are, and you’ll be better able to ask and give forgiveness to others. Remember that like all the other tools, this is an ongoing process.

Forgiveness is tied to the Atonement. It’s truly what the Atonement is all about. Christ suffered so that we might be forgiven of our sins and once again live with God. There are numerous Scriptures that support the importance of forgiveness. For example: In the Bible, it says to turn the other cheek and to forgive seventy times seven.

On the other side, the scriptures also say to declare repentance and preach the Gospel. That doesn’t sound like suffering in silence, allowing someone to do whatever they want to you.

It’s important to know what YOU believe, for abusers are very adept at convincing others that they should believe what the abusers tell them to believe. I know there are abusers who quote chapter and verse to justify what they do.

I finally came to understand that using the Bible as a weapon or a justification is a dangerous game to play. You can justify almost anything using specific verses. Trying to use the Scriptures as a form of defense leaves one in a vulnerable position, because someone else will find a verse that contradicts the one you use. I’ve had it happen. It was devastating, at first. Then I did more homework. I needed to know what I truly believe. That’s how I came up with the three-legged stool. If a verse is twisted to mean something other than Love God, Love neighbor, Love self, then it does not fit the most important commandments given, by Jesus’s own declaration.

Another reminder is that there are plenty of opinions that are quoted as if they were scripture, like cleanliness is next to Godliness. It isn’t in there. Really. It’s a made up quote. This is probably a good time to use Stop Lying.

Forgiveness loses all Godliness when it is used as a whip.

One more significant point is to recognize that there is a difference between forgiveness and absolution. Forgiveness is me letting go of a past hurt. Absolution is to pronounce someone clear of guilt or blame of the consequences.

My own family said that they wanted me to forgive and forget what my abusers had done to me. What’s more, I was required to continue interacting with those abusers. When I finally had enough of the abuse, I refused to interact with my abusers any longer. I was repeatedly told I needed to forgive and forget. At first, I would reply that it wasn’t a matter of forgiveness but a matter of trust. The more I was pushed to forgive and forget, I realized that it was about much more than forgiveness or even trust. I was expected to give absolution to my abusers, i.e., forgive, forget, and trust them. In other words, I was expected to pretend like nothing had happened and keep on pretending, each time it happened again.

It required a lot of personal searching to come to recognize the differences between forgiveness, trust, and absolution. Forgiveness was something I worked at, and felt more successful some days than others. I refused to give my trust; it had been violated too often. It was truly a struggle to grasp the concept of absolution and finally to realize and accept that absolution was not within my power to give.

I’ve heard for years that forgiveness wasn’t for them; it’s for me. In my head, I understand this concept, but I needed to be able to embrace it as my own. As I’ve studied it, I’ve learned that by forgiving, I release my desire for revenge of any kind. Instead, I turn it all over to God.

I freely admit that there are moments when the occasional fantasy for revenge pops up. Usually, this occurs when a new hurt is inflicted, or an old one resurfaces that hasn’t yet been addressed and worked through. I also freely admit that when the villain in a book or a movie is soundly thrashed in the end, I cheer. The significant thing is that the idea of revenge is only a passing imaginary scenario, because down in my heart, it isn’t truly what I want for myself. Revenge on them will never give me back what was taken away, and I don’t want to give them another piece of real estate in my head or my heart.

As a reminder, as I mentioned above, it’s important to realize that forgiveness and trust are not interchangeable, nor are they joined at the hip.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” ~Lewis Smedes

© 2010 The Project: The Tools I Wish I’d Known About Sooner / My Abuse Survivor’s Basic Toolkit by Judy

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