Photo by Ir Solyanaya
Six years ago, my life changed forever. Infidelity caused me, married-mother-of-two, to become single-mother-of-two. I was suddenly alone to navigate the world of working, providing, finances and child-custody negotiations. I lost friendships, became disconnected with my community and experienced a deep, piercing grief.
I spun through emotions like a merry-go-round. Over and over I experienced combinations of anger, sadness, depression, stress, fear, and the occasional whiff of hope. There was no logical pattern for this cycle.
Within days of my life turning upside down, I was told to forgive, for ‘my own’ sake. As the months passed this pressure continued from multiple sources. I received well-meaning advice, such as “you need to forgive“, “don’t become bitter”, “it will be okay”, “do it for the kids’ sake” , “you’ll find someone else”, and “you need to move on”.
Unfortunately, the people sending these messages had no idea of the suffering I was enduring, which included regular flashbacks of events where I had been deceived and manipulated. I was still in the process of adjusting my perception of the past and the people I trusted.
The pressure to forgive was enhanced with the expectation that it’s what good Christians do. But I was not allowed to grieve as a widow would. I was not allowed to display my pain about the death of my marriage by wearing black. There was no memorial service for the loss of my friendships. I was not brought meals or flowers. I was expected to carry on as normal and to hide the shame of the situation that had been forced on me.
People gossiped about me. People avoided me. People abandoned me. Some people attacked me. I was told to keep quiet about what had happened. I was then again reminded that I needed to forgive.
The inability for me to do this in the expected time frame, made me feel more of a failure. Why couldn’t I just be at peace with my new lot in life?
How do you forgive when you are constantly living with the daily repercussions of other people’s choices that have negatively impacted your own life?
After years of processing, counselling and healing, I now have my answer. It’s like I have a jar of rocks. Rocks of all different sizes and shapes, each representing a wrong that had been done to me and something that had been stolen from me. Something to forgive.
Just like the rocks in that jar, I needed to start by disposing of the little pebbles that filled the gaps around, under and over the larger rocks. I then needed to grieve them. Put actions in place to prevent them happening again. Then take some more little pebbles. They could represent lost friendships and family, or increased responsibility. I could crush them, skim them into a lake, feel them, grind them, decorate them or make use of them in the garden. Grieve them. Put protections in place. Let them go. Walk away.
The pressure of ‘just forgiving’ was the equivalent of arranging a truck to scoop up the enormous load of rocks and drop them all into the ocean in one, simple movement. Be done with them. Quickly. Forever. Forget they existed. The danger of that process was they could land on me, trip me and control me. I could even be tempted to pick them up and hurl them to cause harm or damage, as an act of retribution.
A sudden deposition might make others around me feel better about the situation, but it would leave me empty and with limited potential at overcoming the pain.
I was unable to do this because I didn’t know what that pile consisted of. What layers, shapes, pieces and materials formed it to make the load so large and heavy? The boulders of betrayal and abandonment would be there a while, maybe forever. It might be simply enough to just look at them, or acknowledge they existed at all. Maybe chisel off a few edges. Sand back a few surfaces. Feel the texture and the weight. Reduce them to smaller pebbles with a hammer. Put them back in the jar. God could mind them until I was ready to deal with them again.
Forgiveness is not an end result. It is a continuous process; one which acknowledgement of the wrong that has occurred, grief and time plays a large role in the success of it.
Ecclesiastes describes this concept as there being a ‘time for everything’, especially in verse 5, there is “a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing”.
In this chapter of the bible there is permission for people to take time with the seasons of life. God does not give our healing an expiry date. He is patient, loving and kind. He understands how painful grief is and would not look down on us for mindfully and spiritually processing our pain.
To those of you who have suffered greatly as a result of the choices of others, allow yourself space to grieve and heal as you feel able. Forgiveness should not be controlled by the expectations of others and does not reflect the strength of your faith. As long as you are moving along the road of forgiveness with God in a forwards direction of some sort, that is all that matters.
The jar of rocks is yours and God will willingly help with that burden as you need Him to.