We all make mistakes, and we all seek forgiveness. Ironically, we also tend to downplay our own mistakes and over-dramatize the mistakes of others. And because we know what our intentions were, we expect forgiveness to come easy for the ones we have hurt or disappointed, yet we find it so difficult to forgive those that have crossed us. Why do we do this?
It’s hard to move on from our past mistakes especially when people keep bringing you down, or reminding you of your failures or bad decisions. In the peak of my divorce and child custody battle, I remember my ex forwarding me old emails of things I’d said or done that weren’t that “smart”. He would leave old anniversary or Valentine’s Day cards I had written him when we were married on my doorstep as a “reminder”, and screenshots of texts I’d sent to him when I lost my cool. He would document the moments I was less than the perfect mother, and say I was a horrible, weak, ignorant person that could not be trusted. He would threaten to use my childhood trauma and history of psychological counseling as “evidence” that I was an unfit mother, and that my son had to be taken away from me. He would keep detailed notes of who my friends were, and threaten that by being their friend I was exposing my son to “bad people.”
At one point, I began to believe him. His stories almost became my stories. Maybe I was a failure. Maybe I should have stayed in the marriage. Maybe I was stupid. Maybe I was mentally unstable… No.
That was not true. That was his story, not mine.
We all make mistakes and it’s important to remember that not all mistakes are one-sided (well, some are…) I’ve never liked the word “mistake”. I prefer to call them “bad calls” or “bad choices” because mistakes make it sound like we didn’t have a choice in the matter. When we make bad choices, our job is to own up to them. Now if you’ve paid your debt, even if the other person hasn’t moved on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t move on. You don’t have to wait for someone else to move on in order for you to. Sometimes forgiving yourself is the best thing you can do. When we forgive ourselves or others, we are not saying that what was done was ok or somehow justified. When we forgive ourselves or others, we are simply saying that what has happened is done and we love ourselves and others enough to move forward and grow from that experience. This doesn’t mean that crimes should never be put to justice. What it means is that we don’t have to ridicule, put someone down, or remind them of bad decisions made (and it might help a little, or a LOT, to acknowledge the role that you played in that experience as well).
But if someone keeps bringing up your past or telling you that you will always be a horrible person because of something you have done, that’s ok. It isn’t a reflection of who you are, it’s a reflection of where they are in life at that moment. And it’s ok to forgive yourself for what you’ve been through. Although it is ok to feel bad and maybe even a little regret for the bad decisions you’ve made, it is NOT ok to stay there and live in the past, and it is NOT ok to allow another person to keep you or pull you back into that past.
We are progressive beings. We move forward, we evolve. Most importantly, we love, and we love passionately. Our spirits thrive on goodness. We feel joy in kindness and being kind.
And so maybe the next time someone belittles you or tells you how horrible you are because of your past, try this:
Think deeply at the last time you held a stubborn stance when someone apologized to you. Look back on the last time someone let you down and you hesitated to forgive them or respond in kindness. Remember that time when you were judgmental about someone who did something you questioned as morally wrong.
Regardless of how unkind another is, regardless of the mistakes others make, we too, have unkind moments. We too, make hurtful choices. We too, have difficulty forgiving.
I have a challenge (for myself, and I ask it of you too). The next time someone makes a mistake, instead of pointing out the flaw, how about looking for a way to encourage them?
“You’ve come a long way. I’m so proud of your progress. Look at how well you’ve been dealing with ….”
And if they still are struggling, maybe add kind suggestions that get them thinking, such as:
“I noticed that when x,y,z happened, you responded by doing, a,b,c. I wonder if your message got across to them effectively…?”
Perhaps these small gestures can end the cycle of this blame game, one person at a time, and encourage empowering relationships instead.
Maybe, instead of blaming and pointing fingers, we can build people up. Bring forth encouragement when people are at their lowest. Remind them, by our own actions, that peace prevails. Goodness prevails. Love prevails. It always has, and it always will.
When a storm is coming, the Eagle sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm.
While the storm rages below, the Eagle is soaring above it.
The Eagle does not escape the storm. It simply uses the storm to lift it higher.
It rises on the winds that bring the storm.
When the storms of life come upon us – and all of us will experience them – we can rise above them by setting our minds and our faith toward a greater good.
The storms do not have to overcome us. We can allow our faith and fearless inner peace to lift us above them.
Faith is what enables us to ride the winds of the storm that bring sickness, tragedy, failure and disappointment in our lives.
Like an Eagle we can soar above the storm. Remember, it is not the burdens of life that weigh us down, it is how we handle them.
(Story adapted from http://www.indianchild.com)