I can imagine that it’s hard for them to admit they made a mistake. If I confronted them, they would probably justify their actions and distance themselves from the impact. Even if they could see what they did wrong, apologizing might be as far as it goes. Say they’re sorry, and it’s done without looking, without really seeing how they hurt me.
Forgiveness comes slowly and releases an event from having the power to define me or keep me in a “How could they?” loop of anger. I let go of blame, have compassion for myself in moments that I can’t, and allow the wound to hurt until it heals.
I’ve been a victim, and I’ve been a perpetrator. In small and big ways, I’ve hurt others too.
It’s true. I know it theoretically, but when I’ve dared to look specifically at how I’ve wounded another–when an incident has come into the light–it’s too bright for me. I turn away. I can’t stand the blame and the thought that I was a bad person who did a bad thing. Even now, as I write about it, I feel anxiety in my chest and shoulders.
But Truth wants to be seen. Time passes; it waits.
When I dared to look again, I had more ground under my feet, more understanding and compassion for myself. I did the best I could. If I’d had the capacity to do things differently I would have. Tears came. I felt sad that I wasn’t able to be kinder and more proactive and sad that others were harmed as a result.
More time passed. Truth patiently waits to show me more.
Once again, I’m faced with the reality that others still carry deep wounds because of what I’ve done. Since the last time we went down this road, I’ve learned to let go of blame. I know that many people contribute to a hurtful event, not just the perpetrator and the victim and their dispositions and life experiences, but all those who influenced them–generations of misbeliefs and harmful habits. I can let go of being responsible for another person’s pain whether I contributed to it or not. It’s theirs. They’re on their own journey of forgiving and discovering that their healing doesn’t depend on my actions.
As more time passed, I realized that even after I’ve owned what I’ve done and made different choices, those I’ve hurt may still see me as a bad person, even if they don’t want to. It may take a long time for their wound to heal and for them to let me come close.
That’s so painful for me because I want to come close. I want to be seen as good and loving. I’ve made amends for the past, and there’s nothing more I can do. But I want to do more. I want to make them believe that I’m good, but that’s a deep hole I can’t fill. It’s also all about me and what I need.
God invites me to welcome my pain, feel how it expresses itself in my body, sink into it, allow it to be there and rest in another Truth: that I’m good.
God calls me good, even though I make bad choices sometimes. My ego categorizes some people as good and others as bad. Believing I’m better than others and could never be as bad as so-and-so bolsters my self-esteem. But I’m no better or worse than anyone else–even if, in their pain, someone sees me as bad.
Days pass. What comes into the light now is even more painful than being thought of as bad. I still have not looked at, really looked at, the pain another carries because of my choices. I’ve cried, but I haven’t cried for them.
They don’t need that from me for their healing–although I’m sure it would mean a lot to them–but I need to do it for my healing, to reconcile me to myself and others.
There’s a cave in my chest lined with sharp, jagged rocks. I see myself as a wolf, pacing back and forth in it, unable to lie down. Truth pokes and pierces.
For a long time, I’ve been unaware of this cave and just kept moving. Decades ago, whenever I tried to lie down in it, it was so painful I’d black out in depression. Eventually, I learned to peek at the cave from a distance. I put it in a room, shut off the light and only looked at it when I felt safe.
But I don’t want to put it back in the dark where the cave doesn’t change. It needs to be in the light, and I need to rest.
I open my eyes and see the sharp rocks overhead, on the walls and under my feet.
Love comes to me and says, “This is hard.”
Love paces with me–has always paced with me–never leaving my side.
Love sees I’m exhausted. I need to lie down; I need to let reality pierce me. Love lies down with me on the sharp surface. We are both pierced down one side. Love never takes Her eyes off me.
I remember what it was like to be hurt by others, how it accused, crushed, and abandoned me. This cave is made up of all the times I’ve done that to another. I see how my actions have caused them to suffer, and I feel for them. If I came in here without compassion for myself, carrying blame and responsibility, I would bleed to death. It’s good I didn’t come here too soon.
It’s a hard place to be, having compassion for another. I can’t move without being pierced in a different place. But I’m not alone. Love feels it with me, breathes it into Herself.
I can’t stay in the cave long, nor do I need to. But in these moments when I find myself here, I need to stay, feel and look into the eyes of Love.
I breathe in our pain and breathe out compassion for them and for me.
Forgiveness is for the victim, reconciliation for the perpetrator.
–William Paul Young
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There were three spiritual practices embedded in today’s post: The Welcoming Prayer Practice, Tonglen and spiritual direction. In the video clip above, Cynthia Bourgeault explains Welcoming Prayer. You can also learn more about it from Contemplative Outreach. I love this podcast about Tonglen by Pema Chodron. Although she explains it as a Buddhist practice, Christians can do it by breathing in suffering into Christ at the core of our being and breathing out Christ’s love, compassion, peace, healing etc to others, the world or ourselves. The image of the cave and myself in it came when I was in spiritual direction. The feelings I am often too afraid to feel come out when I’m accompanied by my director who holds a compassionate, safe place for me to voice my fears, feel them and find God loving me in them.