Have you ever had a song get stuck in your head that you just can’t stop playing over and over again in your mind? They call it an earworm or sometimes referred to as brainworm. I have one that has become a reoccurring backdrop over these past few weeks. Now I know why. You see, as I’ve been writing my blogs for this month’s joy habit of forgiveness, this song has shown up as an important message for this month’s final blog and the last step on the path to unconditional forgiveness. But before I share the lyrics to a song that you may also have been hearing lately, let me tell you about this final forgiveness step. It’s about showing your love through mercy. In a great book I read over the holidays co-authored by The Dalai Lama and Victor Chan called The Wisdom of Forgiveness, there is a story that Archbishop Desmond Tutu relayed during a dialogue he had with His Holiness at a conference in Vancouver a few years ago.
In this month’s first and second blog posts, I told two stories that demonstrate the first two important steps on the road to forgiveness -- that of acknowledgment and acceptance. Today’s offering will talk about the third vital step – letting go. So often we replay the guilt, shame, or trauma from a past experience as if somehow we can change what happened. We stay “stuck in story”. The reality is that we can’t change what happened, but we can change the meaning we give it and the hold we allow it to have in the present moment and our future self. In my good friend Matt Landsiedel’s book Be the Space, Matt says that surrender and forgiveness go hand in hand and that forgiveness is all about working with resistance. He says that: “Being stuck in a continuum of time is one sure way to suffer in this life.” He goes on to say that “Forgiveness without surrender is merely denial.” Now, I’m not suggesting that letting go is easy.
Finding the courage to accept an injustice from your past is truly a heroic gesture. In fact, after acknowledgement, the act of acceptance is the next most important step towards inner healing. Whether it is something you have inflicted upon yourself or has been perpetrated upon you by someone else, staying stuck in the past prevents you from moving forward. Take June’s story for example. The youngest child of a middle-class rural family, June used to imagine what her life would be like if she didn’t live so far away from town. She could go to parties like her older siblings and participate in after-school activities instead of having to catch the school bus home every day. One day she decided to try something different.
She was only 15 when she left. No longer able to endure the abuse she was subjected to at home, she did the only thing she thought she could do in those days. After a few short months she learned she was pregnant. Scared and alone she knew she would have to finally trust someone enough to ask for help. Giving her baby up for adoption was the hardest thing she ever had to do. That was before she did the second hardest thing. For years, she drifted from one bad situation to the next. In and out of treatment centers and even a short time behind bars when her rage got the best of her. Eventually through a women’s support group she found the courage to confront the shame she had been carrying all those years. Thus began her journey towards the second hardest thing. Self-forgiveness.