Dealing with Endings: Chapter II: Forgiveness
This is the blog I did not want to write. And, there are a couple of reasons why. The truth is…I have not figured this one out. A few days ago one of my friends and I were talking and she asked, “Can you write about something you haven’t completely healed from?” My answer was, “I think there’s a difference in writing when you’re bitter and writing as you are healing.” In other words, no I don’t think you have to be completely healed but I do think it's dangerous to speak on things when you’re in a place of bitterness or resentment. And, I don’t say that out of judgment. I say that as someone who has had to guard my mouth because I have struggled with resentment and bitterness in some areas. But..I did the work and I'm ready to write…
When I set out to write about endings I didn’t know where it would take me; but, I knew that it needed to be a series because of the nuances and complexities that come with endings (see Chapter 1 for context). One of the hardest parts about endings is forgiveness.There are some of us feeling as if we deserve an apology and others of us who need to offer an apology. Gosh, the human experience is complicated and we won’t solve it all in this blog but let’s unpack for a bit…
We will need to forgive ourselves. Some of us are stuck in an ending because we can’t forgive ourselves. Because we are imperfect humans we have all done things that we wish we hadn’t. Sometimes endings happen because of us and we can struggle to forgive ourselves for these mistakes. However, when we don’t forgive ourselves we have a hard time moving forward. Now, before we go on - it's important to emphasize that self-forgiveness doesn’t absolve us from accountability and it doesn’t prevent us from experiencing the consequences of our actions. But, the process of inner forgiveness is necessary for our progress. We can spend so much time wallowing in self pity and remorse that we don’t take that energy to learn and grow. Sometimes you will be given the opportunity to apologize and have restoration and sometimes you won’t. You’ll have to learn to navigate self forgiveness with both of these scenarios. Sometimes those we have offended don’t want to hear our apologies and that’s their right. But, may our character develop so we don’t do those things again. That’s the hallmark of true remorse. The irony of sitting with "unforgiveness" of self is that it becomes shame. And, shame is exhausting. It depletes us of the energy we need to have to do the work of making amends and restoration. One of my favorite researchers and authors, Brené Brown, writes extensively about shame and how to move through it. Check out her work here: https://brenebrown.com/.
We will need to forgive others. If you grew up like me, raised in a Christian household, we were taught that forgiveness is the core of our faith. Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven and we could be in right relationship with Him. And, it then became our responsibility to extend forgiveness to others. Ephesians 4:32 states, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (New International Version). And, all of us who grew up in church know, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18: 21-22; New International Version). We can also find plenty of catchy quotes about forgiveness on social media. But, it's still hard. In my professional role, I have sat across from people who have shared their stories and have experienced unimaginable traumas. I did not have it in me to tell those people to forgive their offenders. Because, for as Christ-like, self-aware, and emotionally evolved as I try to be - I didn’t feel they deserved forgiveness. I have thought that if I forgive someone then it means I was “letting them off the hook”. But, I have come to the place where, for me, forgiveness is less about the other person and more about my personal growth and peace. Often, forgiveness is uncomfortable because it moves us from anger to reconciling with emotions such as sadness, disappointment, and embarrassment. These emotions often create more vulnerability as anger gives us an illusion of control. But again, like most of the human experience, forgiveness is nuanced. And, as we grapple with endings we must figure out a way to manage forgiveness. So, where can we start. We can start with reflecting on these questions, "Who is my unwillingness to forgive hurting? Them or me?" and "What am I gaining and/or losing from refusing to forgive?". Your answers to these questions gives you a good idea on how to start your journey. For really serious offenses, I don’t suggest you walk this forgiveness journey alone. Get a counselor. Talk with your spiritual leader. Lean into your community. You’ll need support as you navigate this work.
Don’t check out here…but some of us will need to "forgive" God. Please don’t consider me blasphemous, sacrilegious, or disrespectful. Hear me out. This has nothing to do with God’s character but everything to do with our responses to our life circumstances and situations. I’ve sat with so many people who have had life experiences that leave them resenting God. Sometimes this resentment is explicitly stated but most often these feelings are suppressed, pushed down out of fear of what others would think if anyone knew that we were wrestling with their faith. So, I’ll share my story. In 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, while I was dealing with a very hard pregnancy, and rebounding from an unexpected life interruption, my uncle died. He was a rock for our family and such a good man in our community. A week before he passed, his son and my dad lifted his feeble body to take him into the doctor’s office. A man who was once large in stature was now so small that he could be lifted on his son’s shoulder. Cancer and all of its complications had wrecked havoc on his body. During the last few weeks of his life I prayed one of the most honest and most selfish prayers ever. “God, I’ve been through so much in 2020, please don’t let my uncle die.” And, he still died. Fast forward to a few Sundays ago I was in church and the pastor was preaching about healing. At the end of the service, he began to talk about the tension of God not answering our prayers of healing. He said while his heart hurts he imagined his loved ones in heaven with a fully healed body. And, I wept. I imagined my uncle in Heaven, healed, restored, and whole. My tears were a release. I realized that for 2 years I had been numb. I love God, but I had held that unanswered prayer against God. So here I was, at that moment, reconciling my faith, God's will, and my unanswered prayer. And, I was grateful that in that space God could handle all of me and my emotions. My faith was strengthened even the more through my honesty and my heart was relieved. Our faith journey will get messy. We must ask ourselves the hard questions and be willing to to engage in radical vulnerability and honesty with God to truly develop our faith. So, yes, I'd say that there's a good number of us that need to come to grips with some unresolved tension with God. There's such peace on the other side of that work. Today, I'm able to find gratitude in it all.
Picture: Janeé and Uncle Stoney Battle
So here I am back where we started. This is the blog I did not want to write for so many reasons. But I wrote it and I’m committed to doing the work. I don’t have a fancy way of ending this one other than to remind you always that counseling can be a great way to work through so much of this. Forgiveness isn’t easy but it’s a necessary part of the journey. Get your peace back. It’s your power.
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Disclaimer: These blog posts are based on my personal opinions, reflections, and insights are not intended to be taken as professional therapeutic intervention(s) and/or advice. Further, please note these blogs are not intended to serve as and/or replace formal counseling services. If you are in need or interested in taking part in direct therapeutic services, please contact your insurance provider’s customer service for assistance. You may also consult website such as (but not limited to) Psychology Today and Therapy for Black Girls to find a therapist.