I have spent the last 6 years trying to figure out how to have a relationship with my parents. The fact is I don’t know if they want to have one with me; but that and what happened in our relationship to create so much trauma and hurt is a topic for another blog.
What I want to share with you here is a phenomenon I have witnessed over and over in relationships between people; particularly in families. Families create their own version of reality; and the individuals that exist in that family unit adopt versions of that reality. Some adopt the whole thing; some cherry pick parts of it; some people reject the whole version and create their own.
You can liken it to building a house; some houses are big and airy and you can move about freely in. Some are small and cozy with a fence around the yard, to keep all the lions, tigers, and riff raff out. My family had a single family home that had a picket fence. With locking gates. I adopted the version of our life and family and played my roll very well. One day I asked to go outside the gate. I was told I could; just not now. Time passed; I looked over the fence and saw that there was a whole world out there, and I wanted to explore it. I kept asking to go see it. Next thing I knew I was grabbed and hustled through the gate, thrown on the ground outside. The gate was slammed behind me, and as I worked to get back on my feet; I looked back over my shoulder and realized the fence went up to the clouds in the sky. I didn’t even try the gate, I just walked away.
In my family, I became the bad guy. I found out as time passed that my family blamed me for everything that had happened and even for things that I had nothing to do with. They had createda version of what had happened and what I had done that did not include any perspective but the one that made them out to be right, and me wrong. And a part of me believes them; because I was a part of the choices and the relationship; and because in my family dynamic I was the fixer, the one who no matter what worked to make things right. And they do not make any show to give any or work to unwind the resentment that has grown. Yikes.. talk about a rock and a hard place.
The bible talks about how easy it is for us humans to see the dirt in someone else’s eye and how difficult it is for us to see the beam in our own eyes. What this means is that we enjoy sitting around and talking about other people’s problems, which seem so clear to us, and we don’t like to spend time thinking about or doing anything about our own much larger problems, which we often can’t even see. Pointing the finger at someone else is a reflex, but it’s one that protects us from the growth necessary to become better, healthier people.
When we talk about forgiveness, I think we often imagine that it’s about one person saying “I’m sorry” and the other person saying “It’s OK, I forgive you and love you,” and then moving on. And while there are definitely situations in which one person is wronged and the other person is the victim (I don’t mean to give excuses to abusers here), it’s also true that for me, it’s usually more complicated than that.
What real forgiveness is about is complete change, about taking all the dirt and beams out of our eyes and other people’s eyes and seeing TRULY. Instead of viewing the world in terms of “us” and “them,” maybe we can see ourselves as equally in need of help.
Forgiveness is less about a trial where there is a defendant and a prosecutor, where we’re looking to see a number figure at the end of the day that defines exactly who holds exactly how much blame, and more about a revolution in our way of thinking and seeing and loving in this world. We’re all to blame and we’re all in need of change, whether we know it or not.
Being caught in a system of seeing one person as the “broken” one or the person who needs to be “fixed” is a backward way of thinking. So long as we’re stuck in that system, we’re going to end up in prison of good and bad, because that’s the only place people who see the world in black and white terms can go. We’re sending ourselves there if we can’t stop blaming and seeing fault.
Who knows, maybe this time I’ve really understood what forgiveness is and how giving it to others means giving it to myself and changing the whole system of exchange so that it’s not about debt or blame, but about love.