When I first talked about hurtful experiences in my past, the pain of it was so great, it would swallow me whole.
Over the years, good friends, counsellors and spiritual directors listened and validated how awful those moments were. Their compassion enabled me to grieve my past and see how those events seeded the belief that I was unlovable and unwanted. Seeing that freed me from the prison of those false beliefs.
Freedom comes in naming truth without justifying, excusing, explaining, or minimizing it.
Until I could acknowledge that what happened to me was awful and damaging, I was locked in a dark place of confusion, self-protection and self-disgust. I looked at life through a narrow lens of fear.
Truth and compassion unlocked me from that dark cell and allowed me to see a bigger picture. I found compassion for those who hurt me and forgave them. I forgave myself for not snapping out of the effects of trauma.
Now I can say that some things that happened to me as a child were awful and painful AND there’s more to the story. I can say that now. When people expressed something like that to me when I was still locked away, I stayed locked away. I felt unheard. It validated my fear, not my reality.
Naming the truth opened me to reconcile with those who hurt me in the past. It unlocked my view of them, and I began to see their hearts and good intentions. Now, I’m more able to believe it when they express their love and care for me.
That said, some people who have hurt us have not changed. If the abuse continues, opening ourselves vulnerably to them or having a relationship with them is not safe or wise.
However, in this place of freedom, whether people have changed or not, we can forgive. We need to forgive, for our sakes more than theirs. Unforgiveness keeps us stuck in the past.
Yet, forgiveness is a process not done easily or quickly. It requires desire, intention, and openness to respond to what is unfolding. That is all it requires. I can’t make myself forgive sooner or more deeply than I’ve been given the capacity for. Like grief, forgiveness finds its own path.
Naming truth, having it validated by others, and opening to forgiveness make reconciliation possible. But what that reconciliation looks like may not be revealed until I’m ready to receive it. Meanwhile, I can trust that God is at work here doing more than I can hope for or even imagine.
One thing I know for sure on this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is that seeking truth and reconciliation with our indigenous sisters and brothers begins with telling the truth about our own past.
For God was pleased to have all God’s fullness dwell in Christ,
and through him to reconcile all things.
–Colossians 1:19-20 NIV (adapted)
On this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, I offer the promise found in scripture that we can be “afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed” because we all carry God in us like a treasure in clay jars. I also want to offer you the love mischief of Maya Angelou.