I received a lot of feedback on my last article on forgiveness. People came up to me and said how could I forgive such a person? Was I exonerating him for what he had done?
A little recap. Last month I wrote about my stepfather, Tobie, and how when I was a young child 6 years old until I was 13 years old, he used to beat me often with a belt. I can only surmise it was because I didn’t act like how a boy should act. I played with dolls, played “house” with the neighborhood girls, cried easily, and, in general, I just didn’t act like a boy.
Later, when I was older, I learned to fake it. However, faking being a boy and later a man caused me to suppress my emotions and feelings. It has taken me a lifetime to overcome the damage done to me when I was a child. I did not ask to be born a transgender person, and my stepfather did not know how to raise a girl in the body of a boy.
So, back to forgiveness.
Corrie Ten Boom was born in a working-class family in Amsterdam. She later wrote the book “The Hiding Place,” telling about how she and her family hid Jews and disabled people from the Nazis. Her family eventually were caught and imprisoned. She and her sister, Betsie, were sent to the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp where her sister died. Corrie Ten Boom traveled and spoke about her experience in Nazi Germany. She tells the story of how she was able to forgive the prison guard who contributed to the horrible suffering of the prisoners.
I heard that story many years ago, and at the time I did not understand how someone could forgive a person like that. I have come to understand that, but for the grace of God, I could have been that guard. We have all been damaged in this broken world. Some people get damaged more than others, but then, how do you measure damage? Inside me exists all the people of the world — all their fears and all their desires, anyone of them could come forth and become “me.” All it takes is the right circumstances of pain, fear, despair and hopelessness.
Forgiveness has become a shallow word in our society. I think very few people understand true forgiveness. Forgiveness is the second most important thing that Jesus taught. The first was love. I think the Bible interpreters got some things wrong. Well, actually, I think they got a lot of things wrong. Jesus said, “Love others as you love yourself.” I think they (the interpreters) got it backwards. I think it should say, “Love yourself as you love others.” And, in the same way, we should forgive ourselves as we forgive others. We rarely really forgive ourselves, and we often don’t understand loving ourselves. How can we love ourselves, if we are judging ourselves? As the Bible says, judge others as you would have them judge you. Unfortunately, we often judge others in the same way we judge ourselves — which is often harsh and unforgiving.
Forgiveness is letting go of our judgement. When we hold something against someone, we are judging them. I held anger and judgement against Tobie. I needed to set Tobie free, and I needed to set myself free from Tobie. Tobie did those harsh and fearful acts many years ago, but I carried that experience with me for many years after. As Krishnamurti would say, I was bound by my anger and judgement I had for Tobie. Being bound by our fears and hatreds, or even our loves and desires, become part of who we are and how we see ourselves. It causes us to see “through a glass darkly.” I carried Tobie with me for many years. I needed to let him go so I could begin to see me. If we truly love someone, we must be willing to set them free. If we truly love ourselves, we must be willing to set ourselves free.
It says in the Bible, (Mark 11:25, a loose paraphrase) when you are praying or meditating, if you hold anything against anyone, go first and forgive them. So that you can surrender to your Lord with a clean heart, that you may experience forgiveness.
(mug) Susan Golightly just turned 76 years old. She still stays active riding her bicycles and is currently building a storage shed in her yard. Susan’s hold both a BA and an MA from WNMU. Both times she was valedictorian. The first time as a man and the second time as a woman.