How many times do we need to forgive before there are no more layers of hurt and betrayal to peel back? I can’t give you a definitive answer. It seems trite to say as many times as you need to forgive, but it is true. I have been working on forgiving those with whom I have experienced the greatest hurts for years now, and I’m still not there. I still haven’t reached a place where there is nothing left to forgive… where I can say with complete truth that I hold nothing but love in my heart for them. If I told you that all I ever feel is love when I think of these people, I would be lying to you and to myself. I can tell you that there are times when I genuinely feel compassion, understanding, and love for them, but then when I least expect it… more anger will arise and I want to lash out, or a buried scar will be disturbed and I am wracked with hurt again.
Anger, hostility, bitterness, sadness, hurt, and fear are signals that tell me that I have more forgiveness work to do. There is a deep knowing within me that true forgiveness is what will release me from the shadows of my past. It will erase the debris that continues to trip me up when I am not paying attention. Forgiveness is an ongoing process; it is definitely not a one-shot deal and then we are done. We have to keep digging deeper; we have to continue exposing the little red-hot kernels of pain that we have buried within us. This makes sense when I consider that my emotional pain was not a one-time occurrence. When we are hurt, betrayed, used, manipulated, and abused, the actions and behaviours that create this emotional pain tend to occur over a long period of time, and if you are like me, we have allowed it to happen more than once. All of this emotional pain cannot be released and forgiven at one time. We have stuffed it and denied it and hidden it over a period of years. Much of it is buried under layers and layers of denial and the residues of living unconsciously. It takes time and continued vigilance to recognize what is percolating to the surface and to lovingly allow ourselves to release this pain.
How do we release this pain? I find that it helps to go right into the pain and feel it in all of its intensity. I need to sit in that pain and allow myself to truly feel it. In feeling it, I honour it and allow it to release its hold on me. When I go deep into the pain, instead of pushing it down, denying it, or distracting myself, I am able to move beyond the pain to a feeling of quiet and peace as it releases. We need to allow ourselves to feel what we locked inside us because it wasn’t possible at the time that we were hurt to fully feel it. We were in survival mode.
Sometimes it isn’t just anger or hurt that surfaces to tell us that we have more healing and forgiveness to do. Our physical bodies also tell us when there is more inner healing to do. My joints tell me when I have inner work to do. For the past few weeks, I have been struggling with painful and inflamed knee, ankle, and finger joints. The pain seems to rotate from one to another. Initially, I worried that this was something that would require medical attention, and then I remembered another time that I had experienced what became debilitating joint pain. It was before I decided to leave my last relationship. I was really struggling with the emotional pain of being in a relationship with an abusive alcoholic, and as I became progressively more fragile within, my joints screamed at me to make the choices I needed to make to survive and begin to find healing. My joint pain disappeared when I did what I needed to do for me. As I remembered this, I wondered if my joint pain was signalling me about more inner work that I needed to do.
Stream-of-consciousness writing confirmed what I sensed within me. As I wrote, I asked God if my painful joints were the result of judgement, blame, and anger that I was holding onto. Immediately, the answer came up from within me. It didn’t come from my head. It came from my own inner spiritual being. The answer was an immediate, definitive yes. Then I asked how I could forgive and let go of this judgement. I told God that I thought I had forgiven, but I could also feel anger and even hostility within me against those with whom I had experienced such hurt. I asked how to release that anger and forgive. Again the answer came up immediately and from within me. This was my answer: Pray. Let it go. It is poisoning you. Use these words: I release my anger and forgive ______. Keep saying this until you feel it. Picture each person and see the Christ within. Recognize your Holy Brothers and Sisters and all they have taught you. They have been your teachers. Rest in the Love that your Father has for all of you. Practise this every day to retrain your thoughts from judgmental ones based on the past to allow, accept, love, and receive.
I followed this inner guidance, and I spent time every day repeating the words: I release my anger and forgive ______. I went through the list and did this for each person for whom I still carry anger and judgement. I spent quiet time picturing each person and seeing the good in them. I kept doing this until I could visualize them bathed in the white light of pure love. As I did this work, my joints improved. Inner work and healing results in outer healing as well. I experienced it before, and I am experiencing it again.
What does it mean to truly forgive and to be able to move on? I’m not sure that I have the complete answer to this question, but I have gained understanding from my own healing process. When we forgive, we accept that the other person did not mean to cause us hurt or harm. We recognize that beneath the layers of ego, the person with whom we experienced hurt is just like us. This person is also a child of God, and our spiritual Brother or Sister. In order to fully forgive, I need to be able to see the Christ in those I continue to judge. I need to recognize my spiritual Brothers and Sisters and understand, as God does for us, that they do not intentionally do us wrong or mean us harm. They do not yet understand who they are as children of God, as beings of Love. It is when we recognize who they truly are… at their inner essence… that we will release the past completely and be able to move on with unconditional love in our hearts.