You thought you buried your past long ago, deep underneath all of your laughter and success. No matter how much space you put between you and your past, though, it still finds you. It reaches its hand out of its grave and mentally pulls you back to those moments you’ve tried so hard to move on from. Always at the worst possible times, you reluctantly greet your past, wondering why he can’t take a hint and stay where he belongs. You find yourself randomly crying at red lights at 10 PM and awaking from bad dreams seven hours later. Your fingertips almost grasp true, genuine joy, and out of nowhere, memories from long ago seep into your thoughts, sucking the happy from you like a dementor’s kiss. Every exciting moment is stained with a touch of pain, and every good thing feels like it happens despite your life before.
Maybe you’ve done all the right things. You’ve written letters you’ll never send. You’ve forgiven those who have hurt you, and you’ve forgiven yourself for hurting others. Maybe you’ve even tried to forget. You have started a new life, a good life, yet somehow you feel stuck in a limbo between your past and your future. You see your goals in front of you, attainable and waiting for you to take that first step, but you feel a weight on your shoulders. You slowly inch forward while trying not to look back. You may ask yourself “I thought I had forgiven and I’m trying to forget – what’s holding me back?”
We know that forgiveness is to restore compassion and to forgo revenge. Otherwise, though, we’ve gotten forgiveness wrong. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you feel no resentment at all – it means that you handle it in a loving way. It also doesn’t mean that we reconcile. You can forgive without reconciling the relationship, parting ways on good terms. Forgiveness is active – not some one-time gift you give someone else or yourself that releases you from the pain. It’s a commitment that you choose to make daily, similar to a relationship. We choose to love our partner every single day. Some days are easier than others. Similarly, we have to choose to extend forgiveness every single day. In order to do this, we can’t “forgive and forget”. We have to remember in order to integrate the pain into our overall experience. Forgiveness takes the strength of remembering what happened and choosing to stay committed to extending it. Sometimes it won’t feel like you’ve forgiven, and this is when you make the active, conscious choice to extend, extend, extend.
Simple enough, right? Here’s the hard part – who and what deserve forgiveness? Thankfully, you and you alone get to decide how and when you extend your own forgiveness. Forgiveness appears in several forms. Generally, there are three or four parts. First, someone else has typically done something that hurt you. Secondly, we’ve typically played at least some part in the situation. Thirdly, we sometimes are frustrated at our higher power for allowing this to happen. What we sometimes forget, though, is the last form – the event itself. The event itself is emotionally charged, and I’d like to argue that this is the most challenging form of forgiveness. It’s easy to understand that the humanness of our existence allows us to do some pretty stupid things. We sometimes can look past the event and see the person, allowing forgiveness to take place. When we think about who we have forgiven, we can typically see the whole person. Thinking about the event itself, though, typically still causes pain. It’s the event that creeps into your mind at that 10 PM red light and keeps you up at night.
Extending forgiveness isn’t a blanket cover-all. With some introspection, you can assess how to handle all aspects in a loving way, whether or not you harbor any residual resentment. Only then can you find closure within the pain of the past and break the chains holding you back. Only then can you embrace your future.
You’re in charge of your forgiveness. When you find it, marry your forgiveness. Be free from your past.