Forgiveness -- the Ugly Side of Life

It seems we live in a society that prizes anger.

An American political season with chants of, "lock her up!" Hit songs with hooks like, "It's too late to apologize." Raging war zones spewing refugees across the globe. Memes about "haters." Hit songs with hooks like, "I don't f**k with you." Reality shows with hair pulling, tears, and allegations of...all kinds of things. People who cut in line at the store. The arguments in the checkout line that ensue...

Then there are the preachers.

I fell for the preaching when I was younger. I was reading books about forgiveness and estrangement in my early 20s. The preachers will lead you to believe forgiveness is essential -- and I agree with that much. The preachers will also lead you to believe that forgiveness is warm and fuzzy. After all, no one will buy what you're selling if it's ugly, right? Those who preach forgiveness as warm and fuzzy clearly haven't doled it out or needed it.

Forgiveness is struggle

What's the opposite of warm and fuzzy? A cactus. Forgiveness is a cactus. For a long time, I struggled to forgive. When horrible conflict arose, my response would be righteous anger and indignation. Oh, I still get angry. It's OK to be angry -- it's a normal human emotion. But today, I find that anger doesn't stick for very long.

It used to stick for years.

Now I seek to understand. Maybe I can even empathize. Maybe I can't do either. That's OK too. The actions of some are beyond my capacity of understanding and empathy. In those cases, it's easy to convince myself revenge is OK and I'll take on being a vigilante when I'm old. Letting go is hard for us all.

Letting go is a muscle

Letting go takes time and practice. It is an exercise. It is literally a weight we lift. We get better at it the more we practice. I can forgive the loud neighbor who wakes me from a sound sleep. I can do it today because of years of practice with horrible neighbors. I've forgiven people who made me upset nearly a decade ago and I've forgiven people who made me mad last year. It's something I am able to do now from practice, prayer, intent, and the desire to set myself free.

Needing to be forgiven

You can't truly understand forgiveness until you've been on both sides of it. Are there perfect people who don't know what it's like to want forgiveness from others? Are there those who have lived immune to mistakes? I'm sure they exist. But I don't know any perfect people.

Chances are most of us have wanted or needed to be forgiven at some point in our lives. I've ached to be forgiven as much as I've ached to be able to forgive. I've never had a Hallmark Card moment with either one. You know what I've had? Cactus moments. Each instance was like getting slapped with a cactus. The experience will leave a mark but it will heal. It stung at first, but then I felt way better! (Days later of course).

So be cautious of those who preach that you must forgive otherwise it's like drinking poison and expecting the other to die...or whatever trite Facebook memes from which they learned about forgiveness.

June 26 is Forgiveness Day. Through years of my own struggle with this I can tell you forgiveness isn't a day. It's a practice. It's a muscle. It's a lifetime of learning. It's a need, an ache and a struggle. And you may never be able to receive it. You also may not over be able to give it.

This is all ok.

Just don't give up. Let go. Try to do it again and again. But never give up.