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« Down Into the Depths | Main | When I Was Little »
Thursday
Apr182013

The Audacity of Forgiveness

Back in the 80's, when my stepdad was dying of bone cancer, I received a call from my mother one evening. She said he wanted to apologize to me, but to not feel obligated to offer forgiveness unless I really meant it.

When he got on the phone he was crying hysterically. Whether or not I realized it at the time, I know now that when we had this last conversation he was in excruciating pain. He died a few weeks later.

His apology was faltering, due to the extremity of his crying. At that moment in time my heart went out to him. I simply didn't have it within me to hate this man who had stolen my virginity, nor to use his feeble condition as an opportunity to get my revenge. The things I could have said! Oh, the torment I could have inflicted which still would have been mild compared to the 8 years that he forced himself on me. Well, I couldn't. Not only couldn't but it didn't even occur to me at the time.

It would be years down the road before I even remembered having this conversation with my abuser. When I did, I felt that I'd betrayed myself somehow. But now, I'm not so sure.

Isn't it true that a huge part of forgiveness is a willingness to forgive as opposed to harboring bitterness? It's not all emotion--surely our wills play a dominant role in the matter. When I reconsider my words to him (which I don't recall precisely, only that they extended forgiveness), something new occurs to me. I really did forgive him.

My journey of healing hadn't even begun way back in the 80's. My goodness, I would be close to 50 before I made much progress in the direction of recovery. But when I spoke forgiveness into the ear of my tormentor, it was authentic.

What's tripped me up is confusing the act of forgiveness with the necessary ongoing work of healing. I'm still dealing on a daily basis with the aftermath of what he did to me, but that doesn't negate the initial act of offering mercy to my stepdad on his deathbed.

I can't resist comparing The King of the Mountain's heartwrenching apology with the primly formal note from my mother several years ago. There was passion and angst in my abuser's plea for forgiveness. My mother's apology left me cold, and feeling somehow insulted. What made the difference? I think the fact that she's never been convinced that she really did anything wrong. How easy for her to put it all on my stepdad. There were clearly no tears shed when she wrote me the note, contrasted with his agonized cries.

In the wake of realizing I did indeed forgive him is a little current of excitement. I really am capable of forgiveness! My heart isn't cold and forbidding like my mother's, but open to the possibilities of extending grace where least deserved.

What will it take me to forgive her? Possibly more time than I'll have in this life. Though I was determined a couple of years ago to extend her forgiveness, I soon realized I just wasn't there yet. Not ready, and who knows when I will be. The wound created by her cold passivity and non-protection apparently goes deeper even than the 8 years of sexual abuse inflicted upon me by her hubby.

I did and I do forgive him. With sincerity of heart I hope he made his peace with God before he left this earth. I just hope that somewhere in this sad tale there is some component of hope, of new life, of grace.

 

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Reader Comments (4)

As I read your post, it really struck home with me. It was the part about your mother. I am still struggling with issues concerning my mother. I don't know if I will ever be able to come to terms with those things that not only did she allow but with things she was involved with as well. I don't know if it ever gets easier. One year ago in December, she wrote me a letter apologizing for all she had done from the time I was very young, and at that point I am not even sure of what all that consisted of but inside I felt this enormous amount of anger. Then 7 months later, I get phone calls that she is dying trying to reach me, and when I finally get in touch with her she asks me if I had any guilty. What a change from her being apologetic to now I am supposed to have guilt. This was the last time I had any conversation with her, and no she is not dead yet. Just one of her many tools and tactics to try and get at me. Maybe somewhere I can eventually get to that place that I do find forgiveness because I know for myself it is huge part of my healing process.

Thank you for always writing with your heart.

April 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHealing

I hear this loud and clear.

My mother has never really held herself accountable for anything. I believe the only reason she sent a note of apology a few years back is because one of my brothers laid a guilt trip on her. It's always been about her, not me or the devastation she's wrought on so many lives.

There is something about the idea of the one giving birth to me not protecting me that turns my blood to ice. Mother/daughter relationships are hard enough to begin with, but when you try to have one with a mother who is self-serving and manipulative you're really attempting the impossible.

In my heart I know there's a difference between not being willing to forgive my mother, and not being able to. And she brought that about by the choices she made decades ago.

I hope things get better for you as you continue your journey of healing.

April 18, 2013 | Registered Commenterbeautifuldreamer

I always thought I was some kind of monster that I so "easily" forgave my dad and all his abuse, but harbored such resentment towards my mother, who knew about it but was never directly involved. Both of my parents have died now, and just recently I have started to remember some of the good things about my mother -- not goodness towards me (still a lot of bitterness there), but goodness in her general personality that I can appreciate, because I can see how those good traits were passed down to both me and to my own daughter. I probably have a ways to walk towards complete forgiveness. I sincerely believe that God understands how forgiveness is a process, as is healing. :O>

-- SynthGirl

April 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSynthGirl

Synth,

It took me so long to comprehend that, as you stated, forgiveness is a process, just like healing. It's helped me to extend a bit of grace to myself to realize this.

May we all be open to the complicated, hard, and necessary process of healing, and to considering the forgiveness option.

April 18, 2013 | Registered Commenterbeautifuldreamer

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