This week has been quite hectic in the land of Skiff. I'm not going to go into details but I will say two of our school days I had nine kids. This was actually an awesome experience for us. The four extra I had are wonderful kids and they were a blessing to our family while they were here. Yet in between all hectic craziness of life I have found myself in a contemplative mood. A friend posted on Facebook asking how can you truly forgive if you can't forget. This has been one of those life lessons for me that was difficult. I gave my somewhat shortened answer (y'all know I am never truly short;) However throughout the week I have found myself going back to that conversation and remembering the life experiences that brought about my learning. Then last night I watched Wuthering Heights (the BBC version). For those of you who don't know Wuthering Heights is Emily Bronte's novel of passions gone astray and a true lesson in the perils of unforgiveness. The story is based upon Catherine (known as Cathy) and our anti-hero Heathcliff (the ward her father took in as a child when he was found wandering the streets) and Cathy's brother Hindley. Hindley hates Heathcliff on sight and treats him terrible. However his reign of terror is short lived. He is sent away to boarding school, a common practice of the day, and Cathy and Heathcliff grow up wandering the moors together and are desperately in love by the time they come of age. Then the plot turns nasty. Cathy's father. Heathcliff's protector, dies leaving the estate to Hindley. Hindley strips Heathcliff of everything, sending him to live in the barn and beating him whenever the notion should strike. Heathcliff's hate and rage boil inside of him despite Cathy's pleas for him to forgive and choose love. I am not going to ruin the story for you. I will say if you read it or watch the movie be sure to have plenty of tissues nearby and know that this story does not tie itself into a nice pretty bow at the end. It is well worth the time to read the novel because the depth of the characters can never truly be portrayed upon the screen.
This blog is not my analysis of Wuthering Heights. Far greater minds than mine have done this way better than I will ever be able to. This blog is about forgiveness and the road that God has walked me down to learn the importance of it.
Not unlike our anti-hero/ villain Heathcliff I was once locked in a prison of unforgiveness and bitterness. I didn't know I was in prison, I felt justified wrapping myself tightly in my cloak of unforgiveness. I would say "Burn me once shame on you. Burn me twice shame on me" I felt protected behind these walls that I raised higher and higher with each passing year. I felt invulnerable.....and alone, terribly alone. Because the protective walls not only kept people out they also kept me locked inside, shriveling slowly away, each passing year stealing away more of my heart and compassion and replacing it with a hardened, lonely woman.
Not unlike Heathcliff, I also had genuine reasons for which to hold unforgiveness. As a young child I learned early on that the world was not a safe place, that people in places of trust could and would hurt you, and sometimes the only way to protect yourself was to distance yourself from pain by replacing vulnerability with bitterness and unforgiveness. Throughout my growing years this belief was only confirmed as more people hurt me. Eventually I went through my life looking for people to hurt me, the smallest infraction building upon the walls of bitterness and unforgivenss. Until I was encased in a fortress that no one else but me even knew existed. You see if you were to ask anyone who knew me back then how they would describe me the words bitter and unforgiving would never be on the list. I was a chameleon, able to hide the darkness in my heart from all those around me. Everyone felt so close to me, everyone found me to be the perfect confidante, everyone thought me to be loving and open. Yet no one really knew me. I held everyone off from my true self. To be open was to be vulnerable and I didn't do vulnerability. God, however saw the real me. The truly hurting, bitter, unforgiving, alone me and he in his compassion and mercy did not leave me to rot in the prison of my own design. No God set me free by battering down my prison walls and teaching me that true freedom comes through him.
I have spoken on this blog about my moving to upstate NY for Bible school. I even mentioned that when I moved there it was partly to escape some major hurt that I had experienced back home. I am not going to go into exactly what happened but I will say that the end result was many people who had known me for the majority of my life chose to believe lies and turned their backs on me. I was the subject of much gossip and shunned in many ways. A few friends defended me and stood up for me to their own detriment but for the most part I was abandoned by people I thought loved me. Years later the truth came to light but by then it no longer really mattered, too much time and life had passed under that particular bridge. I moved 500 miles away to a little Bible school, in a small town of upstate NY. This was God's demolition and construction zone in my heart, this is where the chains that bound me began to break, the walls the imprisoned me began to crumble and where the person God intended me to be began to be formed. I spent a month of Sundays on my face at the alter crying as if my heart was broken, because it was. I didn't even know why the tears spilled down my cheeks or where the gut wrenching sobs were coming from much of the time. I remember one of the Deans saw e one Sunday and she gathered me in a huge hug and said "Oh honey there is so much hurt inside of you. Just let God heal it all, cry all you need to cry. Know that you can trust him to carry all this for you. Know that he is rebuilding you." So I cried and sobbed and allowed God to begin a work in my heart that to this day I don't really understand but I do know after that month of Sundays I walked away from that alter with a huge weight lifted off my heart and cracks had started to form in my prison walls. I then met my husband, we've already talked about a lot of what occurred during our dating relationship. However, I did not go into one very important thing God used my husband as.....a battering ram to break open a huge section of the walls that imprisoned me. You see my husband was not swayed by emotion at all and saw right through my well versed chameleon act to the very heart of me. He did not miss that everyone trusted me but I trusted no one because he was not affected one iota by my patting and stroking of feelings (one of the ways I kept people at bay was to be the friend that always had an open door and a shoulder to cry on. I could make anyone feel better. I was the world's den mother;) Instead he analyzed me and saw I did not add up and one thing my husband can't stand is something that doesn't add up. So he was relentless in his pursuit of the true me. This infuriated me, this terrified me, this made me want to trust him and throw him off a very tall building all at once. He was an emotional bully much of the time and later on this would be very detrimental to our relationship, however the flip side of that coin is that there never would have been a relationship if he was not relentless.
Then God brought it all home after we got married. I spent years harboring bitterness and unforgiveness toward my husband, again a lot of it was justifiable. It is truly hard to let go of pain and hurt that we are entitled to. Somehow stroking that bitterness and unforgiveness can make us feel better about ourselves, more righteous, more right. I became harder and harder, a mere shell of the person I had used to be. By now I had already reinforced the walls that had been knocked open only a few years before. I began to dream of vengeance, how could I hurt those who had hurt me so badly. Let me tell you it is a scary place to get to when you realize just how evil your mind can become.
All my life I had heard the sermons on forgiveness and letting go. I had heard about how unforgiveness poisoned you, not the person you held it toward. I never truly believed it. How could unforgiveness hurt me, how could it poison my very soul? Then one morning I was washing dishes in my kitchen, a houseful of babies noisily carrying on and I was lost in my own unforgiving thoughts toward my husband, the reel of all the things he had said or done to me playing over and over again in my head. Suddenly the thought popped into my brain, an almost silent whisper "You're a smart girl. Car accidents happen all the time. Would it be so bizarre if his breaks went out on the way to work?" I dropped the dish I was washing and started to shake. I was terrified by my own malice. Right then and there I prayed, tears streaming down my face. I begged God to forgive me for my unforgiveness. I begged that he would teach me to forgive and forget. Then that still small voice came to me "Forgiveness is a choice. Not an emotion. You have to chose daily to forgive the ones who hurt you most. You have to daily chose not to dwell upon the hurtful things but to think of the good. Forgiveness is NOT forgetting, it is moving forward despite what's happened in the past. It is choosing to let go of your right to the pain. It is giving it to me when you want to clutch it so tightly. Forgiveness is an action, a daily discipline on your part." Let me tell you the next few years were hard, hard years for me. My husband will tell you he would hear me say aloud more than once "I have forgiven this. I chose to forgive, I will not dwell on it anymore." This is where the tires of my "faith" met the road of self discipline and capturing my every thought. This is the hard walking out stuff, not the touchy feely stuff we like to talk about as Christians.
I learned in this walk that there were people that I could forgive and not let back into my life. Being wise is not the same as holding unforgiveness. Some of the people of my past could still pose a danger to those I loved. I chose to forgive what they had done and walk in that freedom. I no longer tense when their name is said, I no longer wish them harm. However, the Bible also says to gentle as a dove and as wise as a serpent. Wisdom dictates that they cannot be a part of my life.
So dear friends this is the journey that I have been pondering this week. A hard journey but one that has set me free to enjoy the relationships God has placed in my life. I still have to make a conscious choice to forgive sometimes but it is so worth it. I pray each of you has been forgiven and has found forgiveness for others in your hearts. If this is a journey that is still a struggle for you please know I will be praying for you. If you need a friend to hear your struggle I am here. You can private email me at email@example.com. I love each and everyone of you. Thank you for walking my journey with me. Lots of love, Kristine
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