For the entire month of April, our church’s student pastor and I have really been exploring the world of plot twists within our middle school and high school culture. You know, plot twists, the unexpected and unplanned occurrences that rock our world; the topsy-turvy events in our personal lives that we really just did not see coming; the circumstances that make our stories and journeys as unique as we are as individuals.
Yeah, those plot twists.
Because I primarily work with kids under the age of 18, I have received a diverse set of “plot twist” definitions. They range from expecting mouth-watering waffles for breakfast to the sad reality of only having a miserable bag of instant (and expired) oatmeal; from an alarm clock not going off resulting in missing the biggest exam of the quarter; from daily disciplined physical training to finding out your inability to join the military due to an unforeseen health condition; from having parents separate then eventually file for divorce; from being accepted into your dream school then realizing you can’t afford to attend. Plot twists come in all shapes and size no matter how old an individual may be. They vary in severity but they all play important roles in our individual stories. Most of the time, plot twists even involve more than one person. Sometimes, they might even involve someone you love. Yet ultimately, when faced with one of life’s curve balls, we have to make a decision of what to do thereafter. Do we permit the circumstance to define who are? Do we move forward, step back or do we stand still? Which direction do we go after an unexpected turn of events? Sometimes, the direction is obvious. However, most often than not, though we know what steps to take, we just can’t seem to move forward.
Over the course of our series and interaction with our community groups, one particular question stood out to me:
“How do you forgive someone that has done something you don’t know you can forgive?”
Surprisingly, the answer is simple: Forgive them anyway.
Now, before you hit the “X” on the top right corner of your screen, I want to make it clear that forgiving is not an easy task. On the contrary, as incredibly straightforward forgiveness is in theory, in actuality, it is often a very different story. Sometimes it is just plain difficult to forgive someone.
I have to leave it to my middle school students; they consistently ask the best questions. In this case – with such innocence – they pose a question that forces us to reflect and re-evaluate our own personal plot twists of betrayal and hurt. For me, being asked how to forgive someone that has really hurt me resonated on a very personal level.
So how exactly do we go about forgiving someone that has done something you don’t know you can forgive? When someone we care about hurts us, what do we do? And how do we do it?
I am not a professional in conflict resolution. I can honestly admit that I am no expert in that area, especially in regards to forgiveness. I still have a lot to learn. However, I have recently gone through a very painful plot twist in my life requires me to learn how to forgive someone I honestly believed I could not. My hope is that the experience and process I went through can shed some encouragement and light on how to forgive someone that may have come to mind to you. Here are five thoughts about the process of forgiving someone who has hurt you:
1) First things first: Decompress and analyze.
When betrayal and hurt are involved, resolution can (and will be) messy – partly because emotions are incredibly high. The decompression method is different depending on both the individual and the circumstance. Anger and sadness are typical reactions to issues of betrayal and hurt. However, it is very crucial that we remember violence is not the wisest response to any situation. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best:
“Violence only breeds more violence”.
After the event, don’t react out of hyped emotion. Think. Breathe. Always walk away when it comes to choosing between physically acting out in rage or walking out a door for a breather. Walk away. Never hit even when tempted. Remember, you can’t take back a punch and it will most definitely ruin your future with the introduction of guilt. Breathe. Walk away.
Crying on the other hand – go for it! Crying is a great way to decompress. It’s okay to cry, you know. The saying, “crying is for the weak” is an absolute lie. We as a human species stand alone in having the ability to cry emotionally. We are the only mammal that can shed tears due to sadness (or joy!) rather than shedding tears solely as they are biologically designed (for the upkeep of the moisture in our eyes). We are hard-wired with the ability to physically shed tears when we are sad and there is nothing wrong in that – it is completely natural! I do encourage crying privately though. Allow yourself to cry alone and as you decompress, pray, reflect and meditate. An important aspect to keep in mind during decompression and “alone time” is the cause of our weeping in the first place. When we really break down why we are weeping it is because we are longing for the past and having difficulty with the disruption of our assumed future; two matters completely out of our control. We must realize that healing begins the moment we remember to live in the now. Try as we may, we can’t change the past and the future has yet to happen; the present is what we have to work with.
Cry but remember, the past is in the past and the future remains unwritten. Bring your focus back to the present. It’s not going to be easy but focus on today. Focus on right now.
2) Second: Move around and do something different.
Newton’s Law of Motion states that “an object in motion stays in that state of motion unless otherwise interrupted by an outside force”. On a metaphysical level, this basically means that if our routine does not change, nothing will change. The emotions we are facing through this hurt will remain exactly the same if we permit them to. We have to do something different, especially when we find ourselves stuck. Start with something small; if you haven’t left your bed in days, walk to the bathroom and take a shower! Sit in a different room. Sit outside. Draw. Paint. Look up inspiring quotes on Pinterest. Write in your journal. Walk the dog! Volunteer at your local church or non-profit. Help someone. Pray! Or my all-time favorite, buy new running shoes and run five miles a day. Just move. Whatever you choose, just remember that a vital part of forgiving someone is healing you.
The point of the matter is:
“Old ways won’t open new doors”
Crying is an emotional response to an event but it won’t solve anything; it’s time to respond productively! Get up and remember what you are made of!
3) Third: Surround yourselves with people who genuinely care about you.
We have to remind ourselves that we can not get caught up in the rain cloud blinding us from others who deeply and genuinely care about us. Communicate to those closest to you – to your community and friends – how you really feel. Stop pretending to be okay because we’re not. Not yet anyway. Don’t be afraid to really answer the question of “how are you?”. Not everyone needs to know our personal affairs, but there are people whom you trust that can help carry the burden of a heartbreak. Let them know how you are doing spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. These people care about you so talk to them. But in return, listen carefully to their words. Pray with them. Let their strength and belief in you remind yourself that you are very much loved and supported. Let them remind you that you do not have to be stuck in the limbo.
Don’t just listen to these people – have fun with them! The best people to help you heal are the people who genuinely care about you and want to see you succeed. It is amazing how much encouragement lies within the hug from the right person; how much support lies within the silent presence of a good friend. Let these amazing people remind you of who are; not whom your sadness is leading you to believe. So stop permitting the pause in your life and remember to have fun with your friends! You are allowed to have fun. You are allowed to heal.
4) Four: Do not wait for an apology.
The sad reality of humanity is that we are imperfect people. Which includes the fact that our emotions can get the best of us and often, when the issues of betrayal and hurt are involved, two particular characteristics dominate in areas which require an apology: Pride and stubbornness. In fact, sometimes we are even proud to be stubborn and too stubborn to admit we are proud. In essence, this means that we do not like to admit we are wrong. We absolutely hate it. I know I hate it. I have definitely learned the hard way on how to own my mistakes but that requires intention – a skill that needs to be developed. In fact, there seems to be a common fear of taking ownership of our mistakes. And for many people, an apology is the same as admitting we are wrong. We love being recognized for something with a positive consequence and reward but when it comes to owning our mistake, taking credit is a bad thing. We avoid it to the best of our ability. With this in mind, the harsh truth is that we may never receive an apology we deserve. Forgive them anyway. The people who have hurt us do not need to be sorry in order for us to forgive them. Plainly put, forgiveness is really something we do for ourselves.
“Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give to yourself” -Maya Angelou
When we really dive into the concept of forgiveness, we realize something: it has the ability to release us from an emotional prison. At its core, forgiveness is the intentional process of a radical change from negative emotions, attitudes, and feelings towards someone (or something) to the ability to clearly focus on the now.
We don’t forgive for the sole reason of proving a point or admitting who is wrong and who is right. We forgive because the pain of holding a grudge is not worth the bitterness we swallow and stranger we become with each passing day.
We forgive so we can let go and move on.
We forgive so we can continue to be the best version of ourselves.
5)Five: Communicating accountability
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.
Forgiveness means the past no longer controls our emotions, feelings, and thoughts; it also means we now should be exhibiting a drastic change in behavior and attitude towards who/what we have forgiven. Forgiveness means no grudges, but forgiveness does not mean forgetting.
The past does not have to control us, but it has greatly shaped our present and our present shapes our future. The same can be said about the circumstances requiring forgiveness. One important aspect of forgiving someone or something is accountability. To protect yourself and to help an individual grow, accountability is absolutely necessary. When we find ourselves forgiving someone over and over again for the same action, their apology and our forgiveness lose its function of process and healing. We can’t move forward if we are stuck in the same position consistently and accountability plays a key role in keeping apologies and forgiveness both practical and relevant solutions. As the saying goes:
“Actions speak louder than words”.
Authentic forgiveness is an action but if accountability is not present, forgiveness becomes empty words.
We must remember that being accountable and holding a grudge are two completely different matters. Being accountable means ensuring the authenticity of our forgiveness while holding a grudge means there was never forgiveness in the first place. A grudge brings on-going complaint whereas accountability brings an element of wisdom, constraint, and limitation on oneself and another. An important aspect of accountability is communication – we cannot keep others or ourselves accountable if we do not communicate what that means or looks like. Communicate your expectations – I suggest writing them down and keeping them visible! And like all processes which include accountability, there needs to be a consequence and goal. Communicate and commit.
The process of forgiveness is not always an easy one and the steps provided aren’t meant to be taken by a certain timeline; baby steps are key. Move forward, even if the steps are small; do not be where you were yesterday. Sometimes forgiveness can
be easily given, yet at times it is not that effortless and may take a much longer period to accomplish. But we have to remember that forgiving someone will set us free. And the sooner we are set free, the sooner we can move on with our lives. The hate, the sadness, and regret do not have to keep us prisoner. We have the ability to let go and let God. Remember, we are not who or what hurt us, but the longer we revel in our hurt, the more likely we really do begin to become the very thing we are trying to escape. I encourage you, heal yourself and forgive them today. Be freed.