Gandhi once said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Until fairly recently, I’m not sure I believed that. But I believe it now.
I’ve told you guys that I’ve been attending ‘Divorce Care’ meetings every week, right? It’s a support group for people who have gone or are going through divorce. Some of the group members are still hoping to save their marriages; some know they’re gone and are now trying to figure out how to grieve, let go, and bounce back. Five years out from my split, I didn’t feel I needed any sort of support, but when my neighbor suggested I might get something out of it, I thought I might give it a try. Then I looked over the workbook he had for the class and realized it was a faith-based program. I reminded him that I’m a heathen but he said it really wasn’t too God/religion-oriented, so I agreed to go.
Turns out? My neighbor lied just a wee bit. But it's cool, as the group leader is just wonderful and she has fully accepted my non-Christian presence. She’s incredibly respectful of my views and, of course, I always try to be respectful, too. The people in the group, who are also wonderful, vary from devout to not-so-sure-what-to-think, so I don’t feel too out of place. And while God and religion enter our discussions, the focus is really on just getting through the tangle of feelings that results when a marriage ends.
Each class begins with a video about the topic for the week – topics like loss, financial issues, helping your kids through divorce, new relationships, single sexuality (and let me tell you, when I found out God only wants us to have sex within the confines of marriage, I was ever so glad to be a heathen!), etc. The videos are very faith-oriented, which is understandable, as the program was produced by a church organization. Mostly it’s OK but I get a little peeved at times, as the people in them tend to make blanket statements like, “Without Christ in your life, you simply cannot heal.” Pfffffttttt. Utter arrogance.
What I’ve found out by participating in this group is that I have healed. And I’ve done it beautifully. And though I did it without the ‘benefit’ of Christ or religion or faith in anyone or anything except myself and the notion that things would get better (which is what always has, still does, and forever will get me through), I have done or do nearly everything the people who developed the program think I should be doing (with the exception of, you know, praying to God, and that whole ‘no pre-marital sex’ thing… 'cause that totally isn’t gonna happen, people). It’s all made me feel pretty good, pretty healthy, and pretty happy.
Last week’s discussion was on forgiveness. And I have to admit that five, four, even three years ago, that was one area where I was struggling. But when I wrote my post for Kathy’s Writer’s Workshop the other day, on the moment I knew my marriage was over, and someone asked me how you heal from that sort of betrayal, it hit me like a brick that the answer is...
The idea of forgiving my ex, however, was incomprehensible to me for a long time. See, I had a few notions about the whole process that turns out? Were wrong.
I thought the person who had perpetrated the wrongdoing had to ask for forgiveness.
I thought the wrongdoer had to apologize first (I certainly wanted the wrongdoer to apologize first!).
I thought by forgiving, I was condoning the wrongdoer’s behavior.
I thought by forgiving, I was opening myself up to being hurt again.
What I realized over time was that forgiveness is actually an incredibly selfish act (or as the lovely Pauline pointed out in my comments section, a 'self-conscious' act, as 'selfish' has negative connotations). And it was one I needed to get familiar with if I was ever going to move past the hurt and anger and on with my life. I realized that forgiveness isn’t really even about the wrongdoer. After all, my anger and inability to forgive wasn’t hurting him. He was living his life, doing what he wanted. He honestly didn’t care whether I forgave him or not (and indeed, I didn’t even tell him when I did it). It was all about me and the negativity I was feeling, and I just had to do it… in my own head and my own heart. I found out that forgiveness is about release… it allowed me to let go of the anger, the pain, and the hurt and move into a better place.
When I forgave him, everything changed. I found strength I didn’t know I had. I felt hope again. Don’t get me wrong… I still had a lot of work to do on myself in order to heal completely (and forgiving myself for all my failings was - and remains - part of that never-ending work), but I could finally take the anger out of the healing process… and that made everything so much easier.
What I didn’t realize was that forgiveness is an on-going process, especially when you’re still tied to the wrongdoer (for all friggin’ eternity). You see, I forgave him for the betrayal – for ending our marriage in an incredibly painful and callous way – but I’ve found myself having to forgive him on a regular basis for lots of other things; for being a completely absentee father; for not paying his child support for nearly a year because he’s been out of work (and yeah, I know that’s not completely his fault, but we’re talking close to $10,000, people, and that’s put a world of hurt on me that I’m having trouble seeing my way out of at the moment, a month before the wallet-suck we call ‘Christmas’); for putting our child in situations where I’ve had to explain the nearly-unexplainable (like why he might have gotten re-married without even telling her); for all manner of things.
The best part, though? Ryan has benefited and, indeed, she seems to just 'get it'. While I have never (nor will I ever) bad-mouthed my ex in any way (well, to Ryan, anyway), I am honest with her. I told her recently that her dad is who he is. He has his good qualities and his bad qualities, the same as everyone. He loves her as much as he’s capable of loving anyone, but he might never be able to connect with her (or anyone else) the way she might like. That he has a hole in his soul which no one but him can repair and until he realizes that, he won’t change. And she has two choices… she can forgive him his shortcomings and accept who he is (the same as she does with me)… or she can cut him out of her life. She gave it some thought (she’s the thoughtful sort, that child of mine) and she decided she’d forgive him and she’d love him because he’s her dad. But she also easily admits she doesn’t know him and she’ll never expect or look to him for the support she gets from me. I hate that it has to be that way but if it does, I think she has a pretty healthy outlook.
So, we’re good. We’re healing nicely, thank you very much. And it’s all because of a little thing called ‘forgiveness’. I don't know if it's divine but I know it's a good thing. And I know Gandhi was right. She’s a tough cookie, my little cookie. And so am I. And we’re gonna be just fine.