Why Forgiveness Is Worth Fighting forLizzie Heiselt
For weeks I would wake up with my mind racing and that empty, heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. An intense situation had arisen among people I was close to (am I being appropriately vague here?) and it left me feeling incredulous, disappointed, angry, sad … you know, just about every negative emotion out there.
As I replayed the situation over and over again in my mind, it seemed to wear tracks down in the the sensitive tissues, toughening them up until the pain slowly dissipated and the situation became a part of the landscape of my life. And while more and more sunlight entered my mind over the course of the next week or so, and I was able to laugh and smile and not think about what had happened every second of the day, there was still hardness, anger, resentment, and disbelief.
How could this have happened? How could it ever be fixed? How would I, and everyone else involved, move past it?
There were — and still are — a lot of unanswered questions and unresolved issues, even though this all happened years ago. There are still scars in my mind and heart, and in the minds and hearts of others who were involved. But for the most part, they are just scars. They are no longer gaping, open wounds. They are not as sensitive as they once were. And while I still tread carefully — the memory of the pain is still there, even if the pain itself is not — the effects on my everyday life are minimal.
I do not feel anger about what happened.
I do not lose sleep over it.
It does not cause me stress on a regular basis.
My personal relationships have been strengthened and deepened.
These developments were not things that happened quickly or easily. At times it is still a work in progress. But it was, and still is, important to me that I not become an angry person, or a tired person, or a person with constant aches and pains simply because I was holding on so tightly to a grudge that I let it also become part of the landscape of my life. It didn’t seem worth it to sacrifice my health — mental, physical, and emotional — over the fact that I, and many others, had been terribly wronged.
Slowly, piece by piece, I began the process of forgiveness. There were pieces that were easier to come by than others: knowing that those who were closer to the situation than I was were handling the situation with grace and poise, for example, helped me to have the courage to let go of the anger I felt on their behalf; learning the context and history of those involved more fully helped me have more compassion for them when without it, their behavior would have been inexcusable; looking at the whole of a life, rather than only at the darkest moments.
And there were hard pieces, too. They are the parts that are still hard: How do I protect myself and my family? What do I say to keep the peace? Can I take this from a “surface” forgiveness, in which we’ve all decided to be pleasant for the sake of getting along, to a more solid and lasting emotional forgiveness in which all negative emotions are replaced with love and compassion?
I don’t have the answers to those questions, and sometimes it is hard not to know them. I keep looking for them, of course, and I keep fighting against the feelings of bitterness and disappointment that sometimes come up. But it’s important to me to focus on what I have, and not what I don’t have or what I no longer have. It’s important for me to work on my own issues and not worry so much about what other people are doing to work on theirs. It’s important for me to be happy and hopeful and whole. And that is why I keep fighting for forgiveness.