I have had a lot on my mind lately about the power of forgiveness. Most people think that things like humility, long-suffering, and forgiveness are traits of the weak and powerless, something to be despised and rejected. I contend that those qualities are the ones embraced by those who are striving to strengthen and improve themselves, and will often prove how much power one can yield over one's self serving desires.
Recently I have been experiencing a resurgence of problems with my extended family. Lasting change is a difficult thing to accomplish when you are attempting to bring it about in anyone other than yourself. All of us require painful learning experiences in order to grow and develop, it is just in our nature. We rarely receive the motivation to change ourselves unless something painful or traumatic happens to spur us onward. I have been learning by painful experience the past few months, and have been reminded that I cannot change other people. No matter how much I love someone, how much I wish I could help them, or how much I try to coax them along, I cannot make someone's decisions for them. I cannot resolve their issues, or fix whatever may be wrong. The only thing that I can do is change my behavior and hope that they see me and do the same. Everybody reacts differently to trials. No soldier comes out of a war thinking of or viewing it the same as those he served with. We cannot change how others react to difficult or unfortunate circumstances, but we can choose how we react to them.
Many of us would like to be able to transfer the responsibility for our actions and feelings onto others. We say things like "I can't help but feel this way, my ex-husband was awful and he did this to me" or "Well, I just had a terrible childhood and I can't help it. My parents did this to me..." I know I had used the latter excuse a lot when I was a teen. My biological father was a terrible, violent man. When I was a child I would lay in bed at night and listen to my parents scream at each other, an think that if I were to run away then my family would be happy because I was obviously the cause of the contention there (my father liked to get mad at and punish me for things that I didn't do because he knew it would bother my mom. I ended up thinking that I really was the cause of all my family's problems.). When my parents got divorced, I had many unresolved anger issues, not just towards my father, but towards men in general. While all of us did receive counseling after the divorce, it took many years for me to reach the maturity level required to put the things we learned into practice. I didn't want to let go of my anger towards men. It made me feel powerful and in control. I became quite aggressive at times, and would fight with my brothers or any other "guy" that wanted to mess with me. When I would do things like that my mom obviously had a responsibility to correct me, and one thing she would tell me all the time as she was explaining my punishment was that I had no control over anything that was done to me as a child, and it wasn't my fault that those things happened. The one thing that I did have control over was how I chose to react to it, and what I chose to do with it. If I made poor decisions I could not blame them on the abuse that had happened to me, I had to own them myself. I was never given the opportunity to lay the responsibility for something I had done onto someone or something else, whether it was my daddy issues, or teenage hormones, or lack of sleep, or depressed moods, I was always held accountable for what I had done. And rightly so!
Now you can imagine as a teenager that this type of responsibility didn't go over too well. But those lessons stuck with me. As I got older I began to see how I was crippling myself with my anger. The anger was an easy choice. It was appealing, it took very little effort, was easy to summon up, and left those around me intimidated and frightened. No wonder it appealed to my father so much! But I realized that just because it was easier, didn't mean that it was better. Forgiveness? That was hard. It took constant and active effort. It meant that I had to learn to control my feelings and not let the anger take control. I had to ask for forgiveness from others, and I had to forgive myself. I had to forgive myself for not being able to protect my family. I knew that I was just a child, but I wanted to protect them none the less. I had to learn to see differing view points, and recognize that my was was not the only option. I had to learn to view God differently, to see not just His wrath and judgment, but to focus on His love and mercy. It took a long time, required a lot of soul searching, but I was eventually able to get myself into a healthy state of mind. When I finally forgave my father, I released a huge burden off of myself. I was no longer plagued by the stifling emotions. I recognized the pain for what it was and did not let it turn itself into anger. As time has passed, I kept finding new realizations of hurt that needed to be dealt with, hurt that had been hidden for years behind anger and never healed. The anger kept the wounds fresh and open, constantly oozing and bleeding betrayal behind the scenes. When I started to forgive those things I was able to let those wounds close up. I still have the scars. but they are not bright and painful. They are old and a shiny glossy white, smoothed down by time. When I see them it is almost a surprise, I had forgotten they were there. When I examine them closely I remember what caused them and how they came to be, but I feel no more rush of anger. They are gentle reminders of what can happen when a person refuses to take responsibility for themselves, and instead tries to thrust it upon others. I resolved that I would be different from my father. I would not cause others pain in order to hide my own.
I broke the chains of anger that I tried to hold my father captive with, and when I did, I found that the only person that I had liberated was myself.