Dear Ones —
Should we keep talking about forgiveness today?
Let's keep talking about forgiveness.
Thank you all so much for your comments and questions and wisdom that you shared yesterday on this bottomlessly important subject.
As many of you know, I just finished taking Iyanla Vanzant's six-week e-course on FORGIVENESS (some soul-work that I very much needed to for my life) and I'm still processing all that I learned.
What I want to talk about today is perhaps the most radical lesson for me of the whole course, which was about letting go of your judgments and your beliefs about that past — and how letting go of your judgments and your beliefs can open up your heart to the grace of forgiveness.
This is a HARD ONE, you guys.
My judgments and my beliefs are pretty damn solid — and never more so than when I have a strong opinion about something that somebody else has done wrong.
And if somebody else has done something wrong to ME?
Oh baby, watch out.
Because that wrong-doing will be carved into my Book of Offenses, and my Book of Offenses is made of granite. Once your name is carved in there, it is not easily erased.
I look all sweet and nice, but deep inside, I might as well be a mafia boss, for how hard I hold to my grievances.
I can justify holding onto my Book of Offenses because some of the shit that people have done to me is REALLY BAD. Inarguably bad. And, by the way, what has been done to me is nothing compared to what happens to other people in this world — because sometimes human beings are unbelievably horrible to each other. What some people have to go through in their lives is sometimes absolutely unthinkable.
Some of you shared your stories yesterday of what you have been through, and it's devastating.
People do things to each other that are not just heartbreaking, not just disappointing, but often deeply traumatizing and sometimes flat-out evil.
The world is full of wrong-doing, and it hurts us — and we are constantly cataloging our injuries and our injustices.
To hold onto that wrong-doing forever, though, is to never forgive.
On one hand, why should you ever let go of it, when what was done to you was so terrible?
But the problem is this — over the years, you can become broken and sick from carrying around your Book of Offenses forever on your back. Your spine and your soul can be crushed beneath that heavy granite slab, with its names carved so deep. You get so bent and twisted beneath that unforgiveness that you cannot even lift your face to the sky anymore. Then what has your life become? How can you fly? How can you ever be free?
A lot of the reason we hold onto our pain (and our suffering, and our anger, and our shame, and our resentment, and our desire for revenge) is because we believe that what happened SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED. We cannot shake our indignation that God let it happen, that our families let it happen, that our lovers let it happen, that our neighbors let it happen, that we ourselves let it happen — whatever "it" may be.
But it happened.
That's the reality. It happened.
And, as Iyanla reminded us again and again in this course, "Any time you fight against reality, you will suffer."
To continue to insist forever that "THIS SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED TO ME!" is to fight forever against reality. And you will only suffer in that fight, because you cannot win that fight. Reality will always win that fight. You can keep fighting against that reality till the end of time, and you will become obsessed, depressed, angry, bitter — but the reality of what happened will never change.
It happened. The horrible thing happened.
Why did it happen?
Why did you have to suffer?
I DON'T KNOW. Nobody knows. You may never know. And as my friend Pastor Rob Bell reminds us: "Be very suspicious of anyone who tells you that they DO know why you had to suffer."
Someday you might see how that horrible event formed you into the person that you needed to become…or maybe you won't. Maybe it will never make sense. What if never makes sense?
Nonetheless, it still happened.
And the most radical thing I learned from Iyanla during the whole forgiveness course was this: "You don't have to know what anything means."
It was such a simple statement, but it blew my mind. I ALWAYS want to know what everything means! I need answers. I need action. I need resolution. In the story that I am constantly telling in my own mind about my own life, I am always trying to set the world into logical moral order. I try to tidy up the chaos, because I want to control the disorder that I see around me. I want to change wrong-doing to right-doing. I want everything to be fixed.
And there's nothing that I want to fix more than the past.
But the past cannot be fixed. What happened happened, and you don't need to know WHY it happened.
Can you forgive this world for not making sense? If you could forgive the world for not making sense, would that help you to drop the granite Book of Offenses that you have been carrying around on your own back for so long? Would that set you free?
I feel like something shifted in me when Iyanla said, "You don't have to know what anything means."
Like: maybe I could let some things go.
"Letting things go" doesn't mean that you open yourself up again for future mistreatment. It doesn't mean that you welcome back into your life the person who abused you, who lied to you, who cheated you, or used you. It doesn't mean you condone what occurred, or that it was OK. It doesn't mean you sign up for more harm. It doesn't mean that the guilty should go unpunished. (If somebody needs to go to jail, then they really do need to go jail.) Letting things go doesn't mean you volunteer to be a victim forever.
It just means that maybe you stop saying, "THIS SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED TO ME!"
And instead you simply say: "IT HAPPENED."
You say: It happened, and I processed it as well as I could, and I may never know why it happened, but now I am ready to move on — even if I am never apologized to, and even if I am never given justice. I am ready to let go of my judgments and beliefs about what happened — because I do not know the master plan. I will surrender to not knowing, in order to be liberated. Because all those thoughts of anger and shame and pain and indignation are doing nothing but causing me to continue suffering, when the only thing I want is to be free.
Because maybe there really IS a field out there somewhere in our collective imaginations, way out there beyond all our ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing…and maybe we ARE supposed to meet there. Maybe that's what heaven is — the place of no grievances, the place of complete and total forgiveness.
Maybe that's what all the great peace-makers have been trying to teach us, for centuries.
Maybe you can only get there by letting go.
I don't know.
I just know that I really don't want to carry around a stone of grievances on my back for the rest of time.
I am so curious to hear your thoughts, dear ones.
Thank you for sharing this space with me.
I would love to meet you all in that field of peace.