Where would I be right now if it weren’t for forgiveness? I would be alone, alone with my angry thoughts and my bitter life. I’d still be a grown woman, but my emotional and mental health would be stagnant—still a child complaining about the unfairness of life.
I’m not saying I’ve never been angry; anyone who knows me, knows that’s not true. I’m angry when the situation calls for it, but I try not to make things worse by letting it take over my life—by letting that anger control my future choices. People who remain angry are either weighed down with baggage or blaming others for their problems or are looking for revenge; their choices are limited and dictated by that anger, choices that won’t allow them to grow and experience the joys in life. Even though I am middle-aged, I still have a beautiful future in front of me; I don’t want anything, especially now, to limit my choices in life.
Forgiveness has given me freedom. When I forgive those who have hurt me, I have released their power over me. When I forgive someone, I am not saying, “What you did to me is okay.” I am saying, “What you did to me, hurt, but I’m not going to let it negatively change who I am.” Forgiveness is not for the other person’s benefit; it is for mine. I forgive because it frees me to see my blessings. Forgiveness allows me to choose a better attitude towards life in general.
In order to really live, I’ve had to allow myself to feel the gamut of emotions that surround love and hate, so I could move forward. Forgiveness has allowed me that freedom—I had to forgive others and myself for the choices I’ve made, for the things I’ve allowed into my life, for the people I’ve trusted, for the people I’ve loved, whether they’ve deserved my love or not. No matter what pain was brought into my life by those choices, I still have beautiful things because of those people, not despite them.
When Ian was diagnosed with a rare, cancerous brain tumor, I was angry. I shook my fists at God. All I could think about in those first days was that I had prayed for 8 years—falling to my knees in tears type of prayers—for a son. I had two wonderful daughters, but my heart ached for a son. My husband had two sons from his first marriage, and he didn’t want any more children after we had our daughter Carol Linn together. I begged God to change my husband’s heart. When, at 40, I found out I was pregnant, I knew I carried the son I prayed for before the doctor could tell me it was so. Like Sarah I was giddy with my joy. My son, Ian, whose name means gracious gift of God, is God’s answer to my eight years of prayer—but then four years later, God threatened to take him from me. I was angry. I cried bitter tears. I shook my fist at God, and screamed my pain: “How dare you, God! Why answer my prayers only to threaten to take him from me?”
I let myself feel that anger. I didn’t hide, deny, or run from it. I felt it . . . and then let it go. I let it go so I could go back to embracing love. Before I could do that, though, I had to forgive—forgive God, forgive the disease, forgive myself for my anger.
Forgiveness allowed me to concentrate on Ian, to concentrate on the incredible love directed our way from people who wanted to help us. I was open to the love from friends, family, and strangers—love that I wouldn’t have been able to see if I were still enveloped in bitterness and anger. Now when I look back, I still remember the pain, but it’s the love that warms my heart. Forgiveness allowed me to show and receive that love.
Because of forgiveness I could see a purpose, a blessing, in my suffering—in my son’s suffering. In order for people to find their goodness, their compassion–the thing that connects them to the world around them—someone has to be suffering. That’s what compassion means: “A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” It is through compassion and suffering that people can be connected to their purposes in life; how people offer help is a key to what they are gifted in. It is through these gifts—the giving away of these gifts—that givers and receivers can heal the pain inside. Sharing our gifts brings joy—but in order to share the gifts associated with compassion, someone has to be suffering.
If I didn’t let go of my anger, I wouldn’t have been able to embrace that compassion. I would have pushed away the people who wanted to help us, which would have perpetuated the anger and bitterness in my heart, creating anger and bitterness within the hearts of other people. What’s more, if I would have remained bitter, I would’ve missed the beauty all around me. My forgiveness created an environment of love for everyone.
People wonder how I could have been so strong during our cancer battle. I could choose forgiveness during Ian’s cancer because I had learned a painful, but valuable lesson just a few years prior when I refused to forgive my father.
People say that the only thing we regret is the thing we didn’t do–not forgiving my father before his death is one of the deepest regrets I have. I held onto my anger and let it dictate my choices. I refused to talk to my father for six years . . . and then he died. He knew I had Ian–a name I chose ironically to honor my father’s name (Ian is a form of Jovan), but I never called my father to share my good news. My brother told him about Ian. My father’s reaction: Tears. Tears of regret? Tears of joy? These answers I’ll never know because my anger prevented me from talking to him about it.
My anger might have hurt him, but it devastated me. There was a whole part of myself I couldn’t love and embrace because I couldn’t forgive the man who was responsible for creating me. Since then, I have forgiven him for the abuse, for his inability to show me love. Because of that forgiveness, I can now find joy in the man he was—the good things he was to me and others. The choice to forgive the man who obviously had his own demons has healed my soul.
I also needed to forgive myself–forgive myself for not forgiving my father sooner, for the mistakes I’ve made as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, and friend–forgive myself for the choices I’ve made because of my own fears and insecurities. It is through these mistakes that I continue to learn and grow. It’s through those relationship mistakes that I’ve also developed successful relationships.
I have forgiven myself and tried to make amends with the people I have hurt. I hope someday that those people will forgive me for the mistakes I’ve made, but I have to let go of that as well. It is not up to me whether they forgive me or not, but I hope, for their benefit, not mine, that they do forgive me.
Owning up to my mistakes has allowed me to change directions, allowed me to truly know who I am and what I want from life. Forgiving others and myself has allowed me to shed the baggage I carried for years. I am now a stronger, more confident person who, through the power of forgiveness, has the freedom to move through life embracing the beauty around me.