Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past
– Lily Tomlin
Everyone has moments in their life that they look back on and wish they could change. Said this instead of that. Went left instead of right. Said no instead of yes. Spoken up. Walked away. Stayed silent. Fought harder. We wish we could change those moments so that the past wouldn’t be so painful to look upon. We wish we could change those moments so that we wouldn’t have to forgive others or forgive ourselves. It’s hope that keeps us looking back, imagining a better response, a better scenario, something better than the original. It is a strange, misguided hope that someday that mystical time machine is going to appear that will let us go back in time and change the past.
Forgiveness and I have a very deep love-hate relationship. Most people who know me well, know that self-confidence/self-esteem is not an area where I excel. I’m the person who has mastered the art of feeling guilty and scored top marks in self-blame. I’m also the person who struggles to truly forgive others who have hurt me, at least those who have hurt me in a significant way. Even when I think I’ve forgiven someone, I find that I still harbor a good deal of anger and bitterness that I haven’t moved past. Though, I will say, it’s always been easier for me to forgive others than to forgive myself. Lily Tomlin once said, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.” I know for me, that hope is hard to give up on and in regards to forgiving myself, there’s also the matter of believing I deserve forgiveness.
When I was younger, anytime I heard someone preaching about forgiveness, there was usually a line about how we “don’t deserve forgiveness” but that’s what makes God so great because God forgives humanity, the created beings who don’t deserve to be forgiven. Granted, that line of thinking also usually includes another line about how we were all born sinful, evil creatures because of “original sin,” which is a theological point I disagree with but that’s a post for another day. The point is, when I would hear those sermons or devotionals, it was the “don’t deserve forgiveness” part that always stuck with me and while I could wrap my ahead on God’s ability to forgive an undeserving humanity since God is God, I struggled with how to forgive myself because wasn’t I one of the “undeserving?” Again, add in the fact that I’ve always had self-worth issues, so my thought process was already fairly jaded before I started wrestling with deserving/undeserving forgiveness theologically.
Then yesterday happened…
Yesterday was one of those really painful epiphany times where I had to face truths about how I see the myself versus how I see others, about the meaning of forgiveness, and about the theology I am living out versus what I say I believe. What the past 24ish hours have taught me is that forgiveness is not about deserving or undeserving people. God forgives because we were created as good, beloved children of God who have made mistakes but can still can still do good, loving, compassionate things. God forgives because God loves all of humanity, no exceptions, not even for me (and I’m sure a certain person(s) is probably smiling and thinking ‘I told you so, for like a year (or two or four years)’ right about now).
God forgives because God knows the past cannot be changed but the future has endless possibilities.
The past, no matter how hard we may wish, cannot be changed. What has been done has been done and holding on the hope that it may one day change is only going to keep us living in the past rather than living in the present and working towards the future. I can’t speak for anyone else, but living in the painful parts of the past isn’t exactly an enjoyable experience. I think for many of us, we want to believe that the past can change because if it can change that means we can be healed of the wounds the past inflicted on us. The reality is, healing doesn’t come from living in the past and hoping it will change but from working through the past and eventually letting it go.
We forgive because we have let go of the hope of a better past and have embraced the hope of a better future.
So where does all this forgiveness talk leave me?
Well, I’m still in the “working through” part but I am able to see ahead and hold on to that hope of a better future rather than a better past. I guess this whole “thousand mile journey” bit applies to more than just the distance between me and Oklahoma. One step at a time, right?