The Art of ForgivenessPosted: February 12, 2013
I have been hearing a recurring message of “letting go” lately. Whether expressing frustrations to friends, calling my mother with emotional meltdowns or talking about life challenges during a monthly meeting of the women’s social group I’m involved with, the advice given has been the same: “You have to just let it all go, Rachel.” While I understand “letting go” in theory and believe I have been working on that for the past few years, especially through therapy, I find myself wondering: what does letting go actually look and feel like? One response I recently received was quite simple. Forgive others for any hurt they may have caused me. And most importantly, forgive myself.
These past five years have been somewhat emotionally tumultuous for me. I chose to walk away from a marriage and as a result, went through a pretty sticky divorce. I became a single mother (or “co-parent,” which I try to use more often) in a state that is 4 hours away from any of my family members. A year after my divorce, my house caught fire, causing my then 3 year-old son and I to live in temporary housing for 9 months while our home was repaired. I lost a very dear and close first cousin to breast cancer at a relatively young age during that same year. And while I did find love again, that relationship came to an abrupt end last year shortly before I was in a car accident that kept me out of work for two months. I don’t state these things as a means to say that I have been through anything worse or more difficult than anyone else. In fact, when I hear stories of other people’s life challenges, or a news story such as the tragedies that took place in Newtown, CT., I use that as a perspective for my situation and I remind myself that things could always be worse. Yet, in working on letting go, I’ve had to ask myself if I’ve really worked through these challenges or did I just put them down somewhere and get into survival mode?
I don’t harbor any animosity towards my ex-husband or the man who I was most recently in a relationship with. I am not angry at the Creator for having to lay my cousin to rest. Although frightened, I was not angry that my house caught fire or that I now have a car note as a result of my paid-off car being totaled in the accident. I believe I have made a conscious effort to look positively at the lessons learned from all of these experiences. Admittedly though, there are days when something will trigger a memory and I find myself hitting an emotional wall. For example, my ex-husband and I have to work together in the best interest of our son. Married or not, co-parenting is no easy thing, and there are days when we just do not see eye to eye on something. When those moments flare up, I find myself going back to the moments in our marriage when I was most unhappy. I have tendencies of reacting to something in the past, even though I am dealing with my ex-husband in the present. I also find that I tend to blame myself for making the choice to get married, for if I hadn’t done so, then I would not have been faced with the choice of leaving that marriage and ultimately subjecting my son to a one-parent household (that caught on fire). I have no regrets whatsoever about bringing my son into this world and as I have continued to work on myself, I have allowed myself to better understand that without my ex-husband, my son would not be the exact person he is. I just have these moments where I am very hard on myself about the choices I made for my happiness and the impact they have had on my son, even though I know in my heart that my happiness is the best thing I can give my son at this point in our lives. So why do I still feel frustration at times? Why do I have moments where the hurt from a past situation will be as vivid today as it was when the moment happened? Haven’t I forgiven my ex-husband and my now ex-boyfriend? I don’t wish them ill will and in fact, I still want the best for each of them. I think this is where forgiveness of self comes in.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I can be my own worst critic. Whether I am always consciously aware of it or not, I tend to place very high expectations on myself and when I feel I’ve fallen short of those expectations, I can be extremely hard on myself. While there was a point in time where I solely blamed my ex-husband for the demise of our marriage, that turned into me blaming myself for getting into the marriage in the first place. But as I continue to reflect on the notion of letting go, I am beginning to better understand that without these life experiences, I would not be the woman I am today and the woman I continue to become for tomorrow. I wouldn’t know all the things to consider when making the decision to join your life with someone else’s through marriage. Without the fire, I wouldn’t have gotten all the repairs I desired for my house (but couldn’t afford) before the fire happened. Although the car that was totaled was paid off, it was also coming to the point of being on its last leg. Without the accident, I don’t know that I would have received the same value for that car had I continued to drive it and then tried to sell it or turn it in on my own. I also would not have gotten two much-needed months off of work as a result of injuries caused by the accident. I am not sure that I have a reasoning for losing my cousin to breast cancer, but I will be forever moved by the grace and dignity she exuded during what she knew to be her final days. That is something I will always carry with me. I just have to remember to forgive myself. To let go of the person I was when I made some not-so-great decisions, while accepting the person I am as a result of those decisions. My therapist most recently reminded me that some of these life experiences will never really go away from my memory. They are a part of who I am and it is only human if I have a moment or even a day of reflecting on them and further allowing myself to feel the emotions of those experiences. The important thing is not to get stuck; in the past, in being angry at the person or situation that hurt me and in being hard on and unforgiving towards myself. In her words, she simply said: “It will all be okay.”
So I am learning to “let go” through the art of forgiveness. And like love, forgiveness must start within our own individual selves before we can extend it to another. I know that I have to go easy on myself and not be my own worst critic and friend. I understand that sometimes, I will have to learn to say “no” as a means of saying “yes” to me and honoring my needs. Before sitting down to write this blog, I did a quick Internet search of quotes on self-forgiveness and I came across one that stood out to me the most. The author is unknown, but the words are quite powerful: “You can’t undo anything you’ve already done, but you can face up to it. You can tell the truth. You can seek forgiveness. And let God do the rest.”
“Let God do the rest.” My beloved mother’s mother, my Grandmother Ruby, who transitioned just a few months before my son was born in 2007, used to say something quite similar: “Do your best and let God do the rest.” Perhaps this is why I was so drawn to the quote I found through my Internet search. I cannot undo my past, but I’ve been doing all that I can to learn from it, and I try to be honest and truthful in sharing my experiences with others through conversation and this very blog. I am working on better forgiving myself. I suppose that is all I can do as I continue to put one foot in front of the other on my life’s journey. And the rest…well, according to the unknown author and my Grandmother, is up to God.
“You are yourself, and as you are, you are perfectly good. Accept yourself.” (Osho) Love your self. Honor your self. And always…forgive your self.
Until next time…