“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison” Nelson Mandela
My aging Dad came to live with us after separating from wife number three. Its been a shock because I haven’t lived with him since I was eight, when my mum left him. Absence and alcoholism were features of our relationship in my formative years, and he has been a recurring theme in counseling. Good man, hasn’t had a drink in decades, but some deep stuff just never seems to go away.
Having Dad around has suddenly turned my normal serenity crazy irritable. Underneath anger there always lurks either fear or hurt, and my inner kid hurt is making me grumpy about everything Dad does. My historical fear that he doesn’t love me is also being exacerbated by my behaviour, because I’m acting like an unlovable shrew. What to do? I feel anything but at peace.
Encouraged by my faith, I’ve chosen to forgive my father at various times over the years, never realising it wasn’t going to be a forever fix. Robert Fulgham said “Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away. “ It’s the same with forgiveness, which includes the ability to make peace within ourselves.
A friend of mine heard about ‘The Forgiveness Project,’ which tells real stories to explore forgiveness, encouraging us to consider alternatives to resentment and retaliation. This is culturally extraordinary, surrounded as we are by film stories of justice through retribution and violence. My friend put on one of their exhibitions in a busy pedestrian mall – stories of outrageous forgiveness on big posters and songs of forgiveness played by a band. I didn’t think people would stop, but they did. They stood reading the long stories with tears streaming down their faces.
Forgiveness just doesn’t get taught sufficiently as an alternative to internalised hate, but it is the only solution that brings lasting inner peace. The trick to forgiveness is that it’s a process and one you can learn.
Another friend has a forgiveness worksheet she has used hundreds of times, where she writes her story, feels her feelings, reframes her story, then integrates a forgiving shift in thinking into her life. It’s an intentional and personal process and you can see the effects in her joyous face.
My anger at Dad dissipates whenever I’m able to realise that he is also scared and hurt. I’m trying to calm myself by becoming curious instead of dwelling on my victimhood. I’m trying to honour him and praying my feelings will follow. It’s a work in progress, but it’s better than staying stuck.
During the next series of blogs, I’m going to take you on my journey to forgiveness as I try to apply what I’ve learnt and reclaim my grace and peace.