That Crazy Concept Called Forgiveness

My husband found this blowing in the wind on our street. These kids understand love. I want to be like them.

My husband found this blowing in the wind on our street. These kids understand love. I want to be like them.

Something amazing happened to me and it’s deep. Believe it or not, I actually write about more than assholes and Barbie dolls. (On a side note, I promised my cousin Barb that I’d start referring to 20-somethings as amaze-holes instead. It’s more fitting, don’t you think?

I did something kind of crazy. I friended the girl who bullied me in elementary school on Facebook. And she accepted. And we talked. And we connected, really connected for the first time in about 35 years. And something amazing happened inside of me and I hope inside of her too.

When I had my kids, I started working through my feelings about being bullied and I came to a place where I understood that she and I were both victims of our experiences and upbringing. Kids aren’t mean to other kids because they feel good about themselves. I forgave my bully because I recognized a generational pattern of aggression and hate that I refuse to perpetuate. Most importantly, I had to look in the mirror and confront the fact that I’ve treated people in ways that I regret. Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.

But our experiences have a way of causing us to build defenses that become deeply ingrained. Why do I hate office politics? Because I was bullied. Why do I have an anxiety attack if someone honks their horn at me? Because I was bullied. Why do I crawl into a ball if I feel like I’m being emotionally attacked? Because I was bullied.

I’m ready to let go of those defenses now. Amazing.

If there’s one thing I can point to that has made forgiveness for me possible it’s that I’ve never had a desire for justice.

I never once took pleasure or solace in the fact that one of my abusers went to prison for 3 years (and he would’ve been in there a lot longer if I hadn’t been terrified to tell the whole truth). His punishment did nothing to help make sense of what had happened to me or how my life had spiraled out of control from there. Ultimately, the one thing I wanted was impossible. I wanted it to not have happened. I wanted him to not be the way he was, to have not made the choices he made and to have not inflicted the hurt he did. Anything short of that was hopelessly inadequate. I recently found out that he died years ago and I wish, I wish, I wish…

There was a woman who despised me when I was a little girl. She glared at me and pointed me back to my bedroom whenever I worked up the nerve to come out. She beat me with a washcloth after I took a bath and didn’t rinse the tub, leaving a ring of strawberry scented bubbles. Her voice shook with high-pitched rage as the wet cloth snapped against my head and back. She’s like a monster in my mind and I would love to see her now so that I can replace the image of a monster with that of a woman. I want to know if she turned herself around. I want to know if she went on to have kids of her own and if motherhood changed her, if it softened the anger in her heart. She’d probably have grandchildren by now and I wonder if she dotes on them the way my parents dote on my kids. I want to see God’s light in those beady, squinted eyes that I remember so well. And if she didn’t redeem herself? What then?

Then, I have to forgive her anyway. I wouldn’t be the same without any of them. I’m who I am because of how I let those experiences break me, then build me, and then empower me. The cycle of pain ends here.

27 Comments on “That Crazy Concept Called Forgiveness

    • Not at all. I’m saying that legal justice, in my case, is something that existed outside of me. I had no control of it or choice in the matter. Justice was served in my case but I still had to live with the consequences. Justice can never take those consequences away and it’s the consequences of the crime that take the longest to heal. It’s in the healing that I have control and choice. Obviously, society needs to be protected from child molesters and other criminals. That’s what the justice system is for but it’s a lot muddier for the victims.

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  1. I know how hard it is to forgive, but it’s definitely more for yourself than the other person. It doesn’t even mean you’re not still hurt or angry. For me it means that I’m giving it to God to mend and I’m moving on. No bitterness,no revenge..no none of that. 🙂 I friended a woman on FB who had been a friend, then turned into a formidable enemy who actually stalked me, hacked me, and just generally had made me pretty miserable. I wasn’t sure about having her on my friends list, but after a while she told me that she knew my faith was real due to the fact that I did forgive her. Now we’re becoming real friends again. I’m cautious…who wouldn’t be? But open.
    Thanks for sharing.

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    • You’re right, forgiveness is for ourselves. And it doesn’t mean that we can’t have healthy boundaries with people we’ve forgiven. We should be cautious. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  2. I was just telling the hubs yesterday that recovery allowed me to open my heart and forgive my mother. It’s so liberating and wonderful to free up that space in my heart and make room for love. I only wish I had done it before she died. The Universe had different plans however and so now I have to make use of the gift that she gave me…forgive easily and love.

    Your courage here is amazing!

    Sherry

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  3. Beautiful, heartwarming and so inspiring! I love that last paragraph. Any time we can bring a positive change out of something tragic, it so empowering and really, truly freeing. “The cycle of pain ends here!” I am so happy for you Karen! What a an amazing experience, thank you for sharing.

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  4. Hi Karen, I am sitting in my car reading this as my daughter plays basketball, and I can’t wait until I get home to comment, so forgive the inevitable typo’s. All I can think about as I read this was: courage. It takes courage to self-examine, to take the actions you did, to choose forgiveness, and, finally, to share it with all of us. And what a blessing for all of us that you have that courage… I know I have been inspired by this post. Your kids, you husband, your readers (!), we are all so fortunate to have you model this kind of forgiveness, and for showing us how much richer our lives could be! Thanks for showing us how it’s done!

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    • Oh Josie, you’re going to make me cry. Thank you. We must be joined by some invisible connection to comment on each other’s posts at the same time! There are no accidents. 🙂

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  5. so beautiful, so hard, so worth it.
    love this, you helped ma a LOT to day!

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  6. Oh Karen, this touched me deeply. I remember the posts about your childhood tormenter. Friending her on FB was a brave move, and it sounds like the best possible one for both of you. Beautiful writing, as always, but more importantly, thank you for the message and for sharing your vulnerability and strength.

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