Forgiveness: It’s complicated
THE FORGIVENESS JOURNEY: This is the 12th and final post in my yearlong attempt to learn about and institute practices of forgiveness in my own life. I’m not a forgiveness expert. I’m a novice learning as I go. The objective of these posts is to share my learned lessons with you.
Goodbye 2020. Don’t let the door hit you in the… .
Ask anyone. 2021 can’t come soon enough. I’m not going to drag you through the muck and mire. There’s no need. We lived it. We have the masks and the hand sanitizer to show we survived.
Long year short, 2020 was complicated.
And to complicate a complicated year, I unknowingly decided my New Year’s resolution was to dedicate 2020 to learning and practicing the complex heart-matter of forgiveness.
Now, when I read my posts from January 2020, I shake my head. Naive kid. I had no idea what was in store for me, for you, for the world.
So why forgiveness? Because, I wanted to learn about theories, stories, and best practices so I could attempt to absolve myself from some of the burdens I carry. I believed that becoming a student of forgiveness would help me make peace with my own failures, regrets, and guilt. Especially living with a degenerative neurological disease.
The year unfolded. I wrote post after post on forgiveness. I was contacted by many people who shared their forgiveness experiences with me. I listened to talks about forgiveness. Read Bible passages suggested by friends about forgiveness. And John, a WoFo supporter from Manitoba,Canada, sent me an advanced copy of a book written by a local author. Dispelling the Clouds, is a memoir written by Wilma Derksen who’s daughter was kidnapped and murdered on her way home from school in 1984. For 26 years the crime remained unsolved. For 26 years Wilma anguished and grieved and suffered the worst pain a parent could endure. And for 26 years, even though there was not a trace of who murdered her daughter, Wilma forgave the unknown killer. A harrowing, heartbreaking read that left me humbled and, to be honest, feeling like a bit of a forgiveness fraud.
I mean Wilma Dersken suffered in ways I can’t imagine. And yet she found the courage to forgive. For 26 years. How did she do it?
She simplified the complicated. And when she did, she realized forgiveness is a 4-step process: Accept, Admit, Adapt, and Letting go.
Though I enjoyed the book, it did complicate matters for me.
I don’t know why but we often compare our suffering to others suffering. Like some sort of suffering competition. I suffered more than you. I win. But suffering, and forgiveness, are not competitions. When you compare your inability to forgive to someone’s ability to forgive you began to think less of yourself. You feel defeated. You begin to wallow further into your suffering. You begin to doubt your ability to forgive.
My biggest mistake this year was comparing my inability to forgive to others ability to forgive. I could never do what they did. They’re just better people than me. And for months I believed that forgiveness was something abstained from my heart. Reserved for only the most pious among us. Like dunking a basketball, forgiving was something I couldn’t do.
Then September came. If you’ve been with me you know I took a leave from teaching for growing health issues. And since September I’ve been working to be honest with myself. To reflect on the truths I have, for seven years, struggled to admit.
And then something happened. The anger and resentment that I held against myself for seven years softened. Candor lifted my spirits. The more I wrote about my health issues the more hopeful I became. And the more hopeful I became the happier I became. I realized I am not my suffering. And admitting my weakness helped me to better communicate with my wife and kids. It took nearly a year to realize that being truthful about my health allowed me to heal, learn, and grow.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” ~Unknown
Did I solve the forgiveness paradigm in 2020? No. Not at all.
My forgiveness is very much a daily work in progress. Bitterness and regret knock on my door everyday. And sometimes it takes a tremendous amount of energy to not answer.
After a year of forgiveness research, I’m not an expert. No one is. Yes, some people are more morally stout and they have years experience but take comfort in knowing everyone is struggling with the complications and confusions of forgiveness.
No one can tell you how to feel or how you should deal with your suffering. We all need to take time to process our feelings. However, there comes a time when we need to consciously choose to accept, admit, adapt, and let go.
There comes a time when you simply must decide what kind of life you want to live.
My forgiveness journey taught me to simplify what I originally perceived as complicated. To break down the bigness of forgiveness into simple steps I could visualize and work through. Forgiveness is a process. Not a race. It’s a journey without a finish line. It won’t be easy but you deserve a life of peace and joy.
I don’t think forgiveness can be found in a blog post or a book. Forgiveness is found only in your heart. And you must take responsibility for your heart.
I hope that my 2020 forgiveness journey may help you embark on your own forgiveness journey in 2021. And if you do decide to go–don’t forget your mask and hand sanitizer.
It’s complicated out there.
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Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and an award-winning high school English teacher. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)
Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time.