Finding the Strength to Truly Forgive

Forgiveness is a common theme in movies, books, songs, plays, and the like.  But what is forgiveness, what is its purpose, and what does it look like?  Forgiveness, by dictionary standards, is the act of forgiving, or the state of being forgiven.  Its purpose may vary based on the affect it is having on your life.  What it looks like will and should vary from person to person.  Our forgiveness of others should never be based on anyone else’s opinion of what that should look like, but what feels right for us.  

My personal road of and to forgiveness began in 2012.  If you read my previous blog on how to help a friend or family member in a domestic violence situation, then you know that I am a survivor.  What you may not know is that during the process of our divorce, I became somewhat of a perpetrator of the same violence I was vying to escape.  I was verbally and mentally abusive to my ex husband.  I had no idea at that time but I was full of anger, and disappointment with him and myself.  My ex and I both sought counseling after and during our divorce in an attempt to uncover our issues, so that we could in the end be parents and help prevent our children from stumbling on the same road.  

Once the divorce was finalized and we were finally physically separated I made every effort to avoid dealing with him.  Despite counseling and prayer I would still become angry very quickly whenever we had a conversation.  For the longest time I said and believed that I forgave him, but the reality was I hadn’t.  I still harbored anger and bitterness towards him.  To make matters worse we have three children together that were caught in the middle of this occasional fire storm.   The only part of the situation I handled properly most of the time, was not speaking ill of their father in front of them.  Over time my children began to develop the understanding that their father and I couldn’t get along for more than a set period of time.  This was based on nothing more than the fact that I was living in denial of the fact that I was being unforgiving.  I was also reinforcing this idea by constantly repeating it casually to my children when they would make different requests of me.

Aside from the fact that my children were suffering which I refused to acknowledge at times, I was suffering.  Even though I was living and moving forward with my life it was merely a new life trapped in a three years ago mentality.  Then the unthinkable happened.  Despite always providing a stable or semi-stable environment for my children I was faced with homelessness.  In the summer of 2014 rents across the nation skyrocketed.  When I received word that my rent would be going to an unlivable amount I did the only thing I could do which was give notice.   Unfortunately, when the time came to move I had nowhere to go.  The only slight comfort I had was that my children could stay with their father.  To my surprise he offered his home to me as well.

Now granted for the women who vehemently declared often that we had a time limit on being in each other’s presence, and our ability to get along it never occurred to me that this was a self fulfilling prophecy.  Initially I declined the help, and ultimately due to fear of losing my children I accepted, which turned out to be the greatest decision I made this year.  Even though I made a conscious attempt to only be there the days the children would normally be with me, circumstance some days presented me with no other choice.   I found that little had changed for me being in the same house.  The fear was still very real, and soon the familiar night terrors returned.  I was restless and uncomfortable, whether or not my ex-husband was someone I truly needed to fear anymore was irrelevant to the fear that still lingered in my mind.

I’m certain some of you are wondering why not ask a friend or family member for help, but family was not an option, and I did not want to over burden my friends.  That unstable moment although brief, also thrust me into depression.  The moment that I realized I was doing my children an unspeakable disservice was a private conversation I had with my ex after I commented in front of him that we have a time limit.  He wanted to know why I would perpetuate such a lie with them, and prevent them from being able to heal from the situation and see what forgiveness looks like from the two most important people in their lives?  I had no answer for this, it had been my mantra, it was my veil to protect myself from him or so I thought.  The open handed slap reality of that conversation forced me to consider what was I really doing?  Could we not get along?  After all I was staying in his home, and did so for over two months, without so much as an ill spoken word.  The confrontation I anticipated never happened, there was never even a finger pointed towards me in anger.  

So what was my deal then?  I had to ultimately face myself and admit that I was still wallowing in the past and I refused to accept that he was any different.  Not only was I stuck in my fear and anger, but I was stuck there alone.  All my ‘I need to be friends with him for my kids,’ and ‘I forgave me him because I don’t want to build resentment towards my children’ was just my self-indulged martyrdom, as the ex wife of an abusive man.   Now honestly not all abusive men will go to the lengths of my ex.  They will not dig themselves out and discover the reasons why they are abusive or make a solid serious attempt to change and follow through with that change.  

Logically it seems like the next step would be to just say I forgive you or something long drawn out and symbolic to represent that and move forward with life.  But before I could forgive him I had to forgive myself.  It was easier for people to admire that I seemingly forgave him; after all we went through then to actually complete the task and deal with myself.  You see I couldn’t let go of what happened because I still harbored resentment towards me for what I felt I allowed.  I could constantly relay to myself what things I would not have to deal with now I had not allowed that then.  The worries that I let dominate my thoughts about my children and their futures and what a mess I have probably made.  Even the PTSD and anxiety, the mental scars that loiter and require my acceptance because there is little to be done to control them outside of my ongoing conversation with God.  

So what did my forgiveness feel like?  Freedom.  It is so cliché when people make reference to a weight lifting off their shoulders but there is no truer reference.  It is impossible to acknowledge what is weighing you down until you let go of it.  It is no different then finally turning on a light in a dark room and seeing everything you didn’t know was there.  My anger, my resentment, my fear played a role in my life but they never deserved a permanent position.  Once I forgave myself God was able to show me the weight he carries because he has never forgiven himself for the way he hurt me.  

I learned that sometimes God has to let us suffer a little so we can see how we are hurting ourselves and those we love.  There are some who will continue to harbor discontent towards him on my behalf, or maintain a lack of understanding for how I could ever come to a place of forgiveness after all the I endured.  While I appreciate the empathy it is truly a wasted effort to hate anyone on my behalf, because you prevent the freedom you need to succeed in your own lives.  But, the Beatles said it best all you need is love, and after all is that not what Jesus declared his greatest commandment, “love one another’?   Be blessed, be loved and be Loving.

Keisha D.

Originally Published 10/27/16