On March 17, what was supposed to be the first day of my leave of absence, I drove up to Ste. Genevieve to meet my sister to get a playhouse for the kids from her and to just spend some time with her. Usually when I’m driving by myself, I have the radio on, the volume turned up, and I sing as loudly and out-of-tune as I please. However, on this drive, I ended up listening to a Catholic radio station. I can’t remember what was on when I first started listening, but what came on next ended up being the starting point on my path of healing and recovery from the icy waters I kept finding myself falling into.
I can’t tell you if the person on the radio was a priest or a guest speaker or what, but whoever it was, he started talking about forgiveness. He spoke about what forgiveness is and what it’s not. About how important forgiveness is to our own mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. Honestly, most of what he said were things I had heard before. (Although, I did learn that there’s an International Forgiveness Institute and thought that it was pretty interesting.)
As I listened to the speaker go on about forgiveness, the names of different people who had hurt me somehow started popping into my head. As I would think of what I had gone through with each one, I found myself getting angry and feeling hurt all over again. This surprised me a bit because I thought I had forgiven those people and moved on. Clearly, that was not the case.
Coincidentally, just a few days earlier, Tyson had shown me a website he had found with prayers for healing that he thought may help me. I scrolled through the page and saw some prayers that seemed fitting to what I was experiencing, some that didn’t, and an emotional healing exercise at the end of the page. The exercise was all about forgiveness, letting go of people and/or experiences that had hurt you, and finding peace. Some of those same people had come to mind then, too.
Back to the person on the radio, as I listened to him talk about how giving and receiving forgiveness looks different for different people and different situations, I realized that for some people, I hadn’t fully forgiven them. I had said the words in my mind, but they hadn’t reached my heart. Thinking back to the emotional healing exercise, I knew that was something I needed to do for myself.
I wish I could say that when I got home that afternoon, I immediately got to work and felt better by that evening. In reality, it took me about a week to feel ready to do the exercise because the first thing you had to do was go back. Go back and feel the hurt, sadness, heartache, disappointment, anger, shame, and guilt that I thought I had let go of but had apparently just pushed down.
Here’s a basic rundown of how the exercise works:
- You begin by writing a letter to the person telling him/her how angry you are at them for hurting you. You write all the ugly parts of what you experienced with that person and describe how you felt and tell him/her that you are angry at them for that. You tell them how it affected you then and now. You tell them what you wish had been different.
- Next, you write a letter to yourself from that person apologizing for the way he/she treated you and acknowledging that you did not deserve to be treated like that. You write the words you need to hear from that person.
- After that letter, you write a prayer. In your prayer, you release the person into the Lord’s hands. You pray for Jesus to wash away the negativity left by the relationship with that person.
- Finally, you write a letter to yourself from God. You let him tell you what you need to hear from him.
After I finished going through the exercise the first time, I could not believe how amazing I felt. It’s hard to describe the lightness I felt in my mind and in my heart. Yes, it was hard to revisit the pain of the past, but it was also necessary to find this peace in the present. Each time I completed the exercise for a different person and experience, I felt so much relief in the end.
While none of the letters were easy to write, the one that was the hardest was to myself. Writing about the ways in which I had contributed to the hurt and pain I had gone through that was weighing me down so heavily was extremely difficult and even mortifying at times. But to be able to finally forgive myself for all that – especially the guilt and shame I felt for allowing others to hurt me and for hurting others – I had to do it. And I’m so glad I did.
Once again, God knew what I needed. Forgiveness, for myself or anyone else, was not a part of my plan to heal and restore my mental and emotional well-being. Thankfully, God knew that finding forgiveness was exactly where I needed to start.