People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

–Mother Theresa

Recently, someone asked me a difficult question and I really wasn’t sure how to answer it until now.  “How did you forgive your abuser?” she asked.  The question hit me pretty hard and in the past few days I’ve found myself grappling with this question.  Had I forgiven him, or had I just looked past the events of the past in hopes to experience the beauty of the future?

It’s funny – a year ago I wanted nothing more than to forgive and to be released from him.  I was ready to be set free and I found myself on my knees, begging God to please help me forgive this person, and more importantly, to forgive myself.  I ached for it, I struggled with it and just like the snap of the fingers, it suddenly went away, out of my mind for the last couple of months.  I dated, I laughed, I had memorable moments and forgiveness was nowhere in my mind or heart. I didn’t remember this inner pain and struggle until a few days ago when I was asked how I forgave.  That’s how I knew that I had, indeed, forgiven him… and myself.

Contrary to popular thought, forgiveness is a pretty selfish act.  Friends and family constantly coached me, “You have to forgive him – not for him, but for yourself.”  I didn’t get, why should I do him any favors?  I felt that to forgive him was to release him from his own responsibility and somewhere, deep down, I believed that I could hold him prisoner as long as I didn’t forgive; that maybe I could bestow upon him a single ounce of the pain I felt for so long.  I wanted him to suffer, so I adamantly refused to forgive him.  The part I missed, however, was that as long as I denied forgiveness, I denied myself freedom and was forever chaining myself to the darkness of the past.

James Baldwin wrote, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”  This was my reality – I couldn’t face the intense pain so I held on tight to Resentment and Hate; they were my newfound friends on painful nights.

I remember, a few months ago, catching an old re-run of “Sex and the City.”  While getting ready to go out, I heard the white noise of the episode in the background of my room.  I stopped, mid-strap of buckling my stilettos when I heard Carrie ask,” Can you really forgive if you can’t forget?”  Everything turned black and as I sat on the edge of my bed, I realized that I wanted nothing more than to forget the ugly episodes of the past.  I asked myself, “Can you really ever forget if you can’t forgive?”  That was the first night I slept sans Resentment and Hate and from then on, I decided to give myself the chance at happiness I deserved by finally beginning to let go.

The road of forgiveness is not one without bumps and a few breakdowns, but once you finally reach your destination you realize that your past is finally where it belongs: in the rearview mirror.  I forgave him by remembering who I was and where I wanted life to take me.  I forgave him to soothe my own soul and reclaim my independence. I forgave him and for the first time allowed myself to be selfish. 

Life doesn’t come without guarantees, and I know it’s a certainty that I will experience other dark times down the road and that I will have to remember how to forgive once again.  Forgiveness is the purest form of love, and without it, I would never have been able to love the man I met nearly eight years ago.  He’s the one I always loved and forgiveness allowed me to reclaim that love.

I’ve forgiven myself too, and this by far was the most difficult task.  I held most of my hate and resentment for myself.  I loved too hard, I held too tight, I believed too much: these were the thoughts constantly swirling in my head.  I learned to let them all go because in the end, it was never a conversation between my heart and my head.  It was a conversation between my heart and God.  It’s a guarantee that I will hurt again someday.  And while I pray it will never be as painful or deep a wound as my previous experience, I know I will be OK.  And this time, I will forgive them anyway.


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