Thick rope tied in a knot

Photo Credit : Shelby Steward

Forgiveness is a hard word. It sounds like a four letter word most of the time. I know that when I feel like I’ve been wronged somehow that forgiveness is the last thing on my mind.

I’ve wrestled with forgiving key members of my life for years. I know that every time I turn around it seems like there is something new that I remember or I experience and I simply don’t want to forgive.

When I was a teenager, a lovely woman told me this: You don’t have to want to forgive, but you can start with saying, “I want to want to forgive.”

That changed my life. For me, it’s been a way to tunnel out from under the crippling weight of pain and unforgiveness. I’ve heard that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. That’s so very true. The only person that my lack of forgiveness ever hurt was me. It made me cold, callous, and bitter. It tainted my relationships with other people because I was, and still can be, jaded and suspicious. But wanting to want to want to want to forgive is like a tiny light at the end of a dark and antagonizing road.

When I walk my dog Dante, we pass by a house where another dog is tied up. I’ve never seen her untied. She has a dog house and a four or five foot long rope. She’s tied to an RV. Her whole world is so small. She can only move a few feet in each direction. The dog still barks at us and gets on her tiptoes to see Dante and does little spins to let us know that the yard we are passing is hers.

It struck me that living with unforgiveness is similar to that little dog’s life. She can see the world pass by, but she can’t really interact. She reaches the end of her tether very quickly. In fact, she can’t even explore her own yard, which is substantial. Unforgiveness limits the way that we can really interact with our world. It makes our lives very small. We keep running over the same square footage over and over again and nothing changes. It’s the same hurt, the same anger, and the same worries that it will happen again.

When you say, “I want to want to forgive.” it lengthens your rope. It gives you the ability to explore a little more of yourself and your surroundings because it opens a door to possibility. It challenges the bitter roots that take hold in your life and chain you up in the first place.

When you say, “I want to forgive.” it brings you out even further. It gives you a longer rope still. Those same things can’t hold you down as much because the paradigm is crumbling.

When you can actually, truly in your heart, forgive — the rope is cut and you’re unbound.

Bear in mind, that when I first began my journey of learning how to forgive I didn’t see that I was in fact tied up by many ropes and got new ones all the time. I had heard about this great all powerful forgiveness and was disappointed that I wasn’t just all at once free and untethered. It was like I tried to sprint across the yard only to be yanked back by a rope that I hadn’t seen before.

Forgiveness is similar to one four letter word: Work

Forgiveness is ongoing work that takes discipline, vulnerability, and courage.

The Humane Society has this to say about dogs that are tied up:

Dogs are naturally social beings who need interaction with humans and/or other animals. Intensive confinement or long-term restraint can severely damage their physical and psychological well-being. An otherwise friendly and docile dog, when kept continuously chained or intensively confined in any way, becomes neurotic, unhappy, anxious and often aggressive.

It is common for continuously tethered dogs to endure physical ailments as a result of being continuously tethered…They are vulnerable to insect bites and parasites and are at high risk of entanglement, strangulation and harassment or attacks by other dogs or people.

Tethered dogs may also suffer from irregular feedings, overturned water bowls, inadequate veterinary care and extreme temperatures…What’s more, because their often neurotic behavior makes them difficult to approach, chained dogs are rarely given even minimal affection.

At the height of the wake of my divorce you could have used that whole passage to describe me; neurotic, unhappy, anxious, aggressive, unkempt, and vulnerable in every way.

Now, on the other end of some serious works of forgiveness, I’m much better. I can care for myself and interact (mostly) well with people. I can express my needs and feelings a lot better. I can stand up for myself in healthy ways.

I still have a lot of work to do, but something another lovely woman told me a long time ago is that, “We never ‘arrive’”.

We are not all of a sudden perfect one day totally free of every hurt and hang up. I will be twenty nine this year and although I feel one hundred most days, I still have the rest of my life to face rejection and pain. It’s how I walk through the world that matters and how I choose to practice forgiveness so that the agony of existence doesn’t drown out the beauty that stands alongside it.

Forgiveness is a worthwhile practice and pursuit. You don’t have to do it all at once and you don’t have to make a big spectacle when you do forgive someone. Those are two things I wish I was told. It’s okay to do something little like write a name on a slip of paper and throw it in a fire. It’s okay to write letters you never send.

I myself, like to work through forgiveness with the one who modeled perfect sacrifice and forgives me when I least deserve it. Bringing things to Jesus that I’m having a hard time unraveling or letting go of sometimes ends with me snatching it back and keeping it for another day and sometimes it ends with me feeling lighter and freer. Either way, the choice is mine to make.

Ultimately, forgiveness is only your choice. It doesn’t matter if the person tells you that you should forgive them or that they hope you never do because they feel wretched about what they’ve done.

Forgiving someone doesn’t expunge the record. You’re allowed to not trust them until they’ve earned it. You’re allowed to never speak to them again. It doesn’t make how they treated you right. It doesn’t give them permission to keep hurting you.

Some wounds I’ve experienced were so deep that forgiveness was just a way to get loose enough to make it to the dog house in order to curl up and lick my lashes. Forgiveness has sometimes not healed me in the ways I thought it should or that it would. But, it always makes me less chained up and more able to meet the world head on.

Read more about bitterness

Photo Credit: