Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Lesson in Forgiveness

I just finished reading a book by Immaculee Ilibagiza about her experience in surviving the genocide in Rwanda in the early 1990’s. The book, Left to Tell, is an inspiring story of survival, love, and learning to forgive those who have caused immeasurable pain.

Forgiveness……I remember that word. It means, in essence, that the other person doesn’t owe you anything - there is no debt to be repaid, no suffering required, no payback. Forgiveness is not forgetting, but it’s more of a remembering without malice. Many times, forgiveness is a process and sometimes you find yourself back at the beginning when you were about to “win” the game. Forgiveness is not easy…..especially in the case of my X where I find myself having an endless supply of new things to be ticked off about and all of the old patterns and ancient hurts resurface.

Reading the words of Immaculee, I find myself drawn to her struggle - drawn to how honest she is about the difficulty in forgiving. Immaculee had decided in her heart to forgive former friends who brutally murdered her family, her neighbors, her schoolmates. She seemed to have already won the battle of forgiveness….passed into the other side….taken the high road. But then, after the genocide is over, she visits her family home. She writes:

As we drove away from my home, past the unmarked mounds of dirt that covered Mother and [my brother], I felt the bitter, dirty taste of hatred in my mouth…I looked at the faces peering at us as we passed, and I knew with all my heart that those people had blood on their hands - their neighbors blood…my family’s blood. I wanted the soldiers to douse Mataba in gasoline and let me light the match that would reduce it to ashes….My soul was at war with itself. I’d struggled so hard to forgive, but now felt duped for having done so; I had no clemency left in me. Seeing my home in ruins and visiting the lonely, forgotten graces of my loved ones had choked the life out of my forgiving spirit.

For me, the most difficult part about forgiving is the fear that my pain will be forgotten - that all of my tears would be for nothing…they wouldn’t count anymore because everything will be “okay.” When the chalkboard of offenses is erased, my tears and my hurt go with it. Sometimes, I just want my pain to matter….to be important….to be remembered. The hard part is that pain takes a lot of energy to hold onto. Have you ever tried to hold onto a cat that desperately wants to flee? Holding onto hurt and pain is like holding onto that cat - it takes a lot of energy – energy that sucks the life out of your heart.

Although I can’t imagine forgiving my former friends and neighbors from brutally murdering my family, I do know what it feels like to forgive a former friend for her part in tearing apart the nice little life I had built for myself and my family. To be honest, the hurt was exhausting and holding onto it kept me angry and bitter for a good long year. I am not by nature an angry and bitter person. One day, I woke up and knew it was time….time to forgive. I drove to her house, heart thumping loudly, knocked on her door, and said….”I just don’t want to hate you anymore.” We talked for a long time sitting on her living room floor. She cried….I cried…. I finally had to ask, “Are you even sorry? Did my hurt matter to you?” Honestly, I didn’t feel as if my hurt mattered to anyone - I felt abandoned…by my husband, by friends, my church. Since my X was a worship pastor, we had been cast out of the church…my friends felt awkward around me…and although I tried to shelter my teenage children, they heard the rumors and they were hurting. My carefully crafted life was in ashes, but to stay there amidst the ashes…to build a memorial there…to camp out on the shore of bitterness and hurt would be resigning myself to a life of bitterness and hurt…so I had to choose. What do you want, Becky? A life where you are totally pissed off at your X about what he did or did not do? Is that what you really want?? Do you want to be one of those people who have to get in a snarky word at every turn--to prove that I am the victim and he made the biggest mistake of his life when he lost me? Really?

When Immaculee saw the man who led the band of murderers in her village - the man who killed her mother, father, and brothers…not just in a night of mayhem, but who actually hunted them down and killed them. He had hunted her as well - wanted her family’s property as his own. When Immaculee came face to face with her former neighbor…the father of her childhood friends….the brutal murderer of her family, she touched his hand lightly and quietly said, “I forgive you.” The politician in charge of arresting those who committed these atrocities was livid! He wanted her to spit on this man’s face…to shame him…to exact vengeance. When he asked Immaculee why she would forgive such a man, she replied, “Forgiveness is all I have to offer.” She had no family, no money….only forgiveness…but in offering that forgiveness, she gave herself something that money can’t buy - a whole heart….a heart that can love again, hope again, trust again. By forgiving, she allowed herself to live.

I want to shout it out to every ex-wife out there - Live!!! Move on!! Forgive!! Make your new life beautiful and let your ex do the same! May I remember that lesson myself every single day!


Anonymous said...

Boy, do I ever understand. Thank you for this post. You can read about my own similar experience here:

Anonymous said...

Wow wow wow! This is by far the best I've ever heard on forgiveness! A sure keeper! The message everyone needs to hear . Thank you for posting this!