I hate every cliché that exists about forgiveness.
I know every adage, every piece of advice, every regularly endorsed opinion on the topic because I’ve scoured my way through the literature. I’ve read every blog post about letting go of anger. I’ve written down Buddha quotes and stuck them on post-its to my wall. I know that no part of it is simple. I know the adages are tired. I know the gap between “Deciding to forgive” and actually feeling peace can seem entirely unbridgeable. I know.
Forgiveness is a vast, un-traversable land for those of us who crave justice. The very thought of letting someone walk away scot-free from what they’ve done makes us sick. We don’t want to simply wipe our hands clean. We want to transfer the blood onto to theirs. We want to see the scores evened and the playing field leveled. We want them to bear the weight of what they’ve done, not us.
Forgiveness seems like the ultimate betrayal of yourself. You don’t want to give up the fight for justice after what has happened to you. The anger is burning inside you and pumping toxicity throughout your system. You know that, but you can’t let it go. The anger is as inseparable a part of you as your heart or mind or lungs. I know the feeling. I know the second heartbeat that is fury.
But here’s the thing about anger: it’s an instrumental emotion. We stay angry because we want justice. Because we think it’s useful. Because we assume that the angrier we are, the more change we will be capable of incurring. Anger doesn’t realize that the past is over and the damage has been done. It tells you that vengeance will fix things. It’s on the pursuit of justice.
Except the justice we want isn’t always realistic. Staying angry is like continually picking the scab off a cut because you think that if you keep the wound open, you won’t get a scar. It’s thinking that someday, the person who wronged you can come give you stitches with such incredible precision that you’ll never know the cut was once there. The truth about anger is that it’s nothing more than the refusal to heal, because you’re scared to. Because you’re afraid of who you’ll be once your wounds close up and you have to go on living in your new, unfamiliar skin. You want your old skin back. And so anger tells you to keep that wound bleeding.
When you’re seething, forgiveness seems impossible. We want to be capable of it, because intellectually we know it’s the healthiest choice to make. We want the peace forgiveness offers. We want the release. We want the madness in our brains to quiet down, and yet we cannot find a way to get there.
Because here’s what they all fail to tell you about forgiveness: It’s not going to fix anything. It’s not an eraser that will wipe away the pain of what’s happened to you. It does not undo the pain that you’ve been living with and grant you immediate peace. Finding peace is a long, uphill battle. Forgiveness is just what you take to stay hydrated along the way.
Forgiveness means giving up hope for a different past. It means knowing that the past is over, the dust has settled and the destruction left in its wake can never be reconstructed to resemble what it was. It’s accepting that there’s no magic solution to the damage that’s been caused. It’s the realization that as unfair as the hurricane was, you still have to live in its city of ruins. And no amount of anger is going to reconstruct that city. You have to do it yourself.
Forgiveness means accepting responsibility – not for causing the destruction, but for cleaning it up. It’s the decision that restoring your own peace is finally a bigger priority than disrupting someone else’s.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to make amends with who hurt you. It doesn’t mean befriending them, sympathizing with them or validating what they have done to you. It just means accepting that they’ve left a mark on you. And that for better or for worse, that mark is now your burden to bear. It means you’re done waiting for the person who broke you to come put you back together. It’s the decision to heal your own wounds, regardless of which marks they’re going to leave on your skin. It’s the decision to move forward with scars.
Forgiveness isn’t about letting injustice reign. It’s about creating your own justice, your own karma and your own destiny. It’s about getting back onto your feet and deciding that the rest of your life isn’t going to be miserable because of what happened to you. It means walking bravely into the future, with every scar and callous you’ve incurred along the way. Forgiveness means saying that you’re not going to let what happened to you define you any longer.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are giving up all of your power. Forgiveness means you’re finally ready to take it back.