We all have our stories…the way we package our painful memories, perceived losses and sorrow. The events that happen to us are objective – a job goes away, a spouse leaves, a parent or loved one dies. But it is how we interpret these objective events…the spin we put on them as they relate to us…that defines us. And what defines us is how we relate to and create our world.
Think of it as having a conversation with yourself. Whatever you tell yourself about another person, place or thing is true…for you. That is why two people can watch the same event, the same people, and see totally different things. For example, you and I could sit through the same movie, and have totally different reactions. You could laugh at the places that made me cry and I could cringe at the parts that made you laugh. In the end, it doesn’t matter that we had different reactions to the same scenes or lines, because it is impossible for me to experience the exact same thing as you.
Once you accept that everyone has their own perspective and viewpoint, which is equally as valid as yours, you will have no problem with forgiveness. Why? Because you are not judging the other person to be wrong! Another way to say it – you allow the other person to have THEIR conversation about what you both just experienced.
It is crucial to recognize two essential concepts about conversations:
- Everyone has a conversation – with each other, about each other, and especially with themselves. That conversation defines that person, guides their reaction to events or situations, and determines the action they will take in response; and
- One kind of conversation is no better than another – we cannot know what is going on in another person’s world. We have no idea what their past is, how they chose to react to it and what emotional triggers are still vibrant. So we are in no place to judge someone else’s conversation, or words, or actions.
So what is forgiveness? Releasing your judgment against the other person, and turning them over to God.
God is the only one who knows another person’s past, their hurts and disappointments, their sorrow and their joy. It is so simple – God knows…everything. We don’t.
The great thing about recognizing these two concepts is that truly – your conversation about your life is truly your own. You created it, you chose it…and if it doesn’t make you happy, only you can change it.
There is great freedom in that realization. No one but you decided to feel bad about an event in your past. No one but you chose to relive each painful moment of a breakup or disappointment. No one but you looks for ways to validate your commitment to your story – your inner conversation. And here’s the kicker – no one but you can change your story!
When you recognize your story and decide to change it, you are on your way to uncovering your true beauty. As the Persian poet Rumi said, “By God, when you see your beauty, you will be the idol of yourself.” It is in that new way of seeing that your freedom lies. And the way to get there is through the doorway of forgiveness.
So the first step is to recognize that you do have a conversation about yourself and where you fit into the greater world. As part of this recognition process, it is essential that you take time to step out of the emotions and angst your story creates for you. Journaling a few pages every day around the event or situation is a great way to shift through your emotions and hone in on the central issues. Another technique is to start noticing when you feel an immediate reaction to a situation or person. Try to be objective and see if you can identify what it is in you that is being triggered.
Once you have identified your personal triggers (for example, I hate being left out) then the next step is to begin to notice when these triggers are activated. For me, growing up, anytime I found out that other people were invited to lunch or a party, and I wasn’t, I felt an immediate and intense pain of rejection. It didn’t matter if I was not invited because of a very good reason (that group was not appropriate or I wasn’t old enough) I would immediately assume that I was left out because something was wrong with me. Because my conversation about myself interpreted the event of not getting invited as rejection, I caused myself immediate pain. Key words – “I caused myself”
When you realize that how you react is habitual, you can unravel the emotional triggers and reset them. You can change the way you interpret the event or person so you feel joy instead of pain.
You just drop your story.
But what if you don’t want to drop your story? Why would you chose pain and anger over happiness and joy? The simple answer is that you enjoy the angst or pain or anger or resentment. You must enjoy it on some level, or else you would not choose it.
It doesn’t matter what it is that fuels your emotions…it only matters that you habitually create situations that trigger those emotions. You are the only one who made the choice to relive your past. If you seem to have the same type of things happen to you, it might be time to change your story.
You can hold onto your past or you can learn from it. A scene from the Lion King brought that home to me. Simba has been in exile for many years and is finally discovered by Naila, his childhood friend and Rafiki, the witch doctor. When Simba refuses to return home because he thought he had killed his father, Rafiki hits him on the head with his cane. When Simba complains, Rafiki points out that being hit on the head was in the past, but you still feel the pain. You either continue to relive that moment, or you learn from it and move on. Fortunately, Simba got the message and moved on with his life.
“Forgive or relive” anonymous
Once you determine your emotional triggers and you make the decision to change your story, what is next? It is time to forgive yourself and choose love over judgment. When you can look at your past and be thankful, you will have forgiven yourself.
Forgiveness gives you a different perspective. The facts have not changed…but when you forgive and release, you let God into the situation. You can’t change the situation or other person, but you can change the way you look at it. And with that change in perspective, you not only release the other person – you release yourself. Think of the line drawing of an optical illusion – depending on how you look at the drawing, you see either an old man or a young woman. Both are hidden in the picture, but when your eyes focus in a different way, you see a different shape.
Forgiveness is really releasing the other person from your anger and turning them over to God. When you forgive, you don’t need their acknowledgment that you have forgiven them, nor do you need their apology. Instead, the forgiveness is truly for your own healing and peace. As Sara Paddison said, “Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time.”
There is an ancient saying, “All things must grow, or they die.” We are here to grow, learn and evolve. That is why we are called human “beings” – we are constantly in the process of “being” or “becoming.” If we were meant to just reach a certain stage of development and then stop, we would have been called human “beens.” As Debbie Ford put it, “Our highest purpose is to learn and grow from our experiences and then move on.”
But what if you have suffered from some horrible tragedy or you were born with severe disabilities? What if everyone you have ever loved always leaves you and you are a lost soul? What then?
It is all part of the experience that we call “being” human. As Wayne Muller said, “Sorrow is the dark side of grace…what breaks us down also breaks us open.”
The worst events in our lives usually hold the greatest gifts. Look at Nelson Mandela – imprisoned for 27 years only to forgive and to become the first African President of his country. He chose love over judgment and found his own freedom. As Mandela so eloquently stated, “[t]o be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Forgiveness is truly the healing touch of God. God is love. Underneath the pain, the guilt and the loneliness, we are still God’s children, loved by him. We are still created in his likeness and image and we are still worthy. But that central truth is covered up when we do not let go of the past and learn from it. Forgiveness is truly God’s love.
We must first heal ourselves and then allow God’s love to flow through us to others. Once you discover the healing power of true forgiveness, you can free yourself from your past and actually live in the present moment.
- Everyone has a conversation about themselves and where they fit into the world.
- We cannot judge another person’s conversation because we don’t know everything.
- If you find the same or similar events happen over and over in your life, you may not be learning the lesson embedded in the event. If you keep repeating the same story each time you lose your job or a relationship, you have not learned from it. To change your story, follow these steps:
- Recognize that you have a story and that only you can change it.
- Learn to identify the emotional triggers, then change your perspective.
- Chose love over judgment. Allow forgiveness of yourself and others. Drop the negative and replace with positive, uplifting messages. Release yourself and the other person and ask God to step into the situation.
- Open your heart and learn to dance with the Divine.
Books I highly recommend:
“The Dark Side of Light Chasers” by Debbie Ford
“Radical Forgiveness” by Colin C. Tipping
Both books have great exercises that help you to release the emotional baggage you may be carrying and let go. Also check out both of my books available on Amazon. Each one has several forgiveness lessons embedded in the story, and techniques to release and let go.