THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is one of the gifts that God has given us to use in our path to healing. Yet many of us struggle to see it as a gift, or even an option. We often struggle to forgive.
Forgiveness, like love, is a powerful tool for our transformation and growth. Children in their innocence are adroit in the “art of forgiveness”. They unconditionally continue to forgive, at least for the moment, and love their caregivers no matter what the caregiver has done to them. This empowers them to survive unimaginable pain and suffering.
Yet as adults, some of us have not forgiven people from years gone by, even childhood experiences that caused us then, and still now, great pain. The memories seem unending, etched in our everyday lives.
They were partners, friends, lovers, former spouses, co-workers, bosses, parents etc that we honored, loved, and served unconditionally. They were the ones we trusted with our whole being and we were blindsided by what they handed back to us on a wicked platter of pain and betrayal that still affects us to the core.
The trauma was real and the pain has been enduring. So, we nurture the pain, relive it daily, feed it our continuous trauma remembrance for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We continue to allow our lack of forgiveness to give the memory and the trauma more power and life than what it needs to survive. We give it our energy, our thoughts and our peace. We weave it into every story, every new experience and every new relationship. It becomes our identity, our past, our present, our companion and our promised future.
We simply have not learned, maybe are not ready, nor have the desire to let go and begin the path of healing through forgiveness. Yet, forgiveness is one of the most powerful and organic sources of healing.
One of my heroes, the late Nelson Mandela, shared the following, he said “Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear, and that is why it is such a powerful weapon.”
He spent 27 years in prison, simply and solely for representing and working towards social change for the people of South Africa. He worked for change against the brutal regime of Apartheid. Through the sheer tenacity of wisdom and leadership he chose forgiveness towards those that held him in “physical bondage”, and he used forgiveness as a powerful weapon that allowed him to negotiate an end to apartheid and elevated him to the Presidency of his country.
Mandela understood that the assignment before him was bigger than his own experience, trauma, and pain. It would give social, economic and psychological freedom to the people of South Africa. He came to understand that in order to complete the assignment, and the mantle of his leadership, no matter the past pain, trauma and distress, forgiveness was necessary. He also realized that those that held him captive were more fearful and weaker than himself, and that it was their fear and weakness that caused them to hold others in bondage.
Immaculée Ilibagiza, in her powerful book, “Left to tell”, describes the brutality of the Rwandan genocide. The loss of her family, friends, and village, and how she survived in a small bathroom along with several other women where they hid for 3 straight months (91 days).
She too took the path of forgiveness toward those that brutally disrupted her life, killed her beloved family and left her village devastated. It was during her months in the bathroom hiding, not surfacing even for short periods, eating minimally and often sleeping standing up while hearing the constant taunt of their oppressors and the wailing as people outside were being slaughtered that moved her to a place of understanding that “forgiveness” was not only necessary for her to survive, but a choice she had to make in order for her to heal and move on.
Some of our experiences are similarly brutal and traumatic, and some are simply the loss of trust and affection because of the actions of those who were once dear to us. Nonetheless, the learned and practiced art of “forgiveness” can be our tool also. We can use it to leave the pain behind, and light the healing path forward.
Forgiveness is not going back; it is a powerful leap forward. It is a strengthening tool we can use to get us up, dust us off and not allow them to keep us in physical or spiritual bondage any longer. It is our road and pathway to freedom.
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