There is a place, between anger and forgiveness.
I am there.
I have been angry for as long as I can remember. But anger requires energy to maintain. And I am tired.
In school, I was angry at my teachers, my coaches, my boyfriend.
In college, I was angry at my classmates, my boss, my co-workers.
For the past year or so, I’ve been angry at my parents.
But I don’t want to be anymore.
I don’t want a phone call from my mom to ruin my day.
I don’t want every conversation to be loaded and tense.
And I don’t want to have to struggle to think of something positive about her.
I realized how tired I was of being angry and, just like that, I wasn’t angry anymore. It’s run its course. It’s over, and I’m over it.
The next step is forgiveness, but I’m not there.
I’m here — not angry, but not ready to forgive.
I hate the very idea of forgiveness.
It was thrust upon me from as early as I can remember. The idea that I must forgive those who wronged me was mandatory if I wanted to be a Good Christian. If you want to be forgiven, you must first forgive. God commands it. And there’s no commandment in there that says you must be allowed to take your time doing it. In my mind, forgiveness wasn’t the final step in the process: it was the first.
(And it’s not just me. Take a look at this quote from Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life,” a book I spent hours studying in the hopes that I could emulate its advice and become a Better Christian: “Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Trust requires a track record.”)
Coupled with the requisite empathy, I was left little chance to truly explore my anger and hurt. Conversations with my mother when someone had wronged me often went like this:
“I know she called you a name, BUT did you ever think why she did those things?”
“I’m sorry that you’re upset. You’ll feel much better if you forgive your sister.”
She had good intentions. I still admire her depth of empathy and understanding to this day. I pride myself on being able to see and understand multiple points of view in a situation, to find the good in even the worst of people. I owe that to her. But her idea (really the Christian ideal) of forgiveness? No thank you.
I also don’t like that popular (and humorous) flippant idea of forgiveness as life-saver: “Not forgiving is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die” (and variations thereof).
I get it. Grudges are pointless. But don’t shanghai it out of me. Don’t tell me I have two choices: Forgive or die. That’s only slightly better than the deal Jesus offers: Forgive or burn in hell.
For a more satisfactory explanation, I turn to this generation’s Bible: Google. “What is forgiveness?” “Quotes on forgiveness”
Most of the results are crap.
Many regurgitate Bible verses I am very familiar with.
Most speak about the strength of character it requires to forgive. This makes me feel worse.
Quite a few talk about forgiveness as a means of regaining your power. These are slightly more helpful, but still not quite for me. Reading them, I picture a strong, proud person, head held high, picking themselves off the floor, turning their back and walking away.
I’m not there. I’m not that. I’m still sitting down, shoulders curled in and head bowed. I’m still hurt.
Then I find this little gem:
“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim–letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.”
― C.R. Strahan
That’s it. That’s the ticket.
This is why I’m not ready to forgive.
Because I still feel like a victim.
I still have moments of panic, PTSD, flashbacks, triggers. Most of my (very small) self-esteem is still derived from my desirability. I still can’t have a disagreement with Mr. T without wanting to run away, or feeling like our whole relationship is ending. I’m still codependent, still enmeshed, still can’t separate my emotions from the emotions of those around me. And I am still absolutely terrified of my abusers. When I think of them, or the abuse, I still get dizzy, sweaty, sick to my stomach, numb. Sometimes, I am not surviving. I am struggling.
That is why I cannot forgive. Because it is not OK. Because, some days, I am not OK. On these days, I get very close to being drawn back down into Anger. I look up and see I am miles away from Forgiveness, with really no desire to go there.
There is something else. Some other reason I am fighting so hard against forgiveness. And it’s this.
“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare…”
― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
I’m done hitting back. I never really did much. I pulled all my punches, because I hate causing my mother pain. But just because I’ve stopped hitting doesn’t mean I don’t wish they weren’t landing.
This is it. The meat and potatoes of why I’m here. And it hurts to admit. It hurts just to type these words. I want my mom to hurt like I hurt.
It’s not revenge. It’s not spite. It’s not malice.
I just want her to know how I felt. Because, once upon a time, I thought we shared everything. But one day I was caught in a storm, and I looked up and I was alone.
I’m still in that storm, even though it’s lessened. From time to time, I reach out a hand, hoping to pull her in with me. Because I hate being alone in here, without her.
Time and time again, my hand comes up empty. And each time, I am afraid that the real reason
is that she doesn’t love me enough. Of course, I know that isn’t true. My mother loves me, very much. But maybe this storm is too big, this dark cloud too scary. After all, in here you are facing not only the world’s evil, but your own. The most terrifying demons are on the inside.
Isn’t that what she promised me? To battle any monster, to help. protect me from any harm? This is my mother. She would kill for me. Or so she told me once. My mother, who cries at commercials but passed over the story of my most recent abuse with nary a tear. My mother, who told me to consider the other, the one who wronged me. Perhaps she was begging leniency for her future, inevitable mistakes.
I will do what she asked of me then; I will think of her. I will acknowledge that it is almost impossibly hard to face up to your mistakes. I will remember all I have done to protect myself from pain. And I will accept that this is what she is doing now.
And someday, I will forgive her.
One final thought on forgiveness:
“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation………Forgiveness does not excuse anything………You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness……”
― Wm. Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity