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lessons from the school of forgiveness

i heard someone once say that earth is the school of forgiveness.

today, it is raining–a divine soundtrack as i sit some lessons learned.

earlier this week, someone shared with me the heartbreak at having to return a rescue dog after 24 hours. the dog was not adjusting, bullying and acting out. he called me to share the story and how he had no one to support him, to help. he kept saying, “i’m all alone. i had no one to ask. no one to be a sounding board. so i just had to return her.” he wept. and i gently said, “and you’re calling me, now. you are not alone.”

his old story of being alone was recreating that story in his present reality. this is not to say that there is not truth in his being alone. it is to illuminate that this was one part of the story; there are other parts, too.

i wondered about the role of forgiveness in his holding onto an old story of hurt that keeps on hurting, twisting an effort to find companionship into one that isolated. i thanked the dog for her teaching–even as he returned her, she still gave gifted him the truth that he is not entirely alone and that he can choose.

the next day, i made the decision to say no to something to which i had once said a deep-hearted yes. the yes involved returning to a place that had both grown me up and hurt me (don’t these things always come together?!) and so it felt like an opportunity for repair in some way to return there for work. over the course of nearly a year, my yes evolved into a no.

i had returned to that place a different person than i left it six years ago. at that time, i left feeling hurt, betrayed, full of anger and resentment. there was self-righteousness, indignation. leaving that place sent me straight to the principal’s office of the school of forgiveness. and there i stayed for the next several years, learning and practicing as i healed and grew.

now, stepping away from this place again with a ‘no’ allowed me to reflect on how much i had grown in this time. it reminded me of the power of forgiveness and the truth that comes with/from it–truth rooted in love, rather than fear. feeling this, i could see there was repair in the return here, after all just not the way i envisioned it. the repair was in renewing my relationship with this place, with my self.

so, on this day of rain, there is a desire to acknowledge some of the lessons i’ve learned in the school of forgiveness:

the journey with forgiveness has been humbling and power-full.

it begins with self-forgiveness because you can’t give what you don’t have.

to forgive yourself means accepting responsibility for your choices and in doing so, claiming your power.

forgiveness is allowing grief in to move what hurts, to release the suffering. i think of it as opening a dam that allows the waters of life to move freely, no longer blocked. this is scary, sometimes terrifying. acknowledging and naming our pain feels threatening and risky. this is a trauma response.

it is right to offer gratitude for the fear in touching our wounds; that fear has served us. now, it no longer serves. nod to the fear and then lean in. this is where growth and healing are waiting.

with grief’s movement and release comes compassion, rushing into that place of hurt.

forgiveness expands, like a widening of the lens as more of the story comes into view. suddenly, there is more–more truth, more perspective, more space, more compassion.

breath returns. we find our bodies.

forgiveness in not transactional. it is not something that is done in a one-and-done act. forgiveness is a practice, a relationship, a process–as is grief.

while forgiveness deeply impacts the ability to be in relationship with others, that impact is a side-effect, a consequence of deeper healing that rests in an embodied knowing that i am worthy; i belong; i am divinely human; i am connected and an essential part of all life. forgiveness flows down like a river, from that source of knowing.

and then, because i can see myself, i can now see you.

because i love myself, i can now love you.

with forgiveness comes grace.

Jesus himself exemplifies this, crying out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” naming his pain at feeling abandoned and alone in his time of darkness. and then with that grief, remembering the truth of who He was, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

the more i practice forgiveness, the more truths i can hold. which means that with increased capacity to practice grief and forgiveness, the more capacity there is for joy and love.

forgiveness comes from the Latin root word “perdonare,” meaning “to give without reservation”. no exceptions, no expectations. forgiveness has nothing to do with the person/thing being forgiven.

forgiveness liberates.

choosing to reject the lessons of forgiveness keep us bound up in our suffering. i remember years ago working with a group on racial healing and reading the book of forgiving in which desmond tutu calls this the “revenge cycle”, where hurt causes hurt…again and again and again. mostly, this revenge cycle hurts the self–others are impacted but again, the primary target is the self.

forgiveness removes the chains of our suffering, the chains of external conditions. and places our power and the Eternal Flame of Love firmly within us.

the more forgiveness that is practiced in the context of a relationship, the more capacity for love and freedom is experienced in that relationship, the more complexity included. within my marriage–where forgiveness has schooled us for real–we are both bound up together and completely free. because forgiveness has taught us the truth of our interdependence, inviting each of us to be exactly who we are, nothing more and nothing less.

there is nothing more freeing, more true than love without condition.

and this is what forgiveness offers us–a love without condition.

sometimes this looks like a no and even in that no, there is love.

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