So, if you’ve been reading my contributions to this blog for any amount of time, you’re probably aware that I’ve recently gone through a divorce—at times a very contentious, soul-stirring, paradigm-shifting, drawn-out transition from the very beautiful, stable marriage I once knew. Well, recently, I shared with many when I reached the three-year anniversary of our official separation, and though there was a range of reactions from friends and family, the one that stood out to me most was the one in which I was informed that I was still “processing” it all. I took it as, poor Ayisha, you haven’t gotten over this yet, you haven’t forgiven yet. But in reality, I had forgiven, even forgotten some, and moved on. One of my favorite authors on the instinctual nature of women, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, has the following to say about forgiveness:
“There are many ways and portions to forgiving a person, a community, a nation for an offense. It is important to remember that a ‘final’ forgiveness is not a surrender. It is a conscious decision to cease to harbor resentment, which includes forgiving a debt and giving up one’s resolve to retaliate. You are the one who decides when to forgive and what ritual to use to mark the event.”
For me, however, forgiveness has been a surrender—not a surrender to the one to be forgiven or to the situation that created the need for forgiveness, but a surrender to God’s perfect Will. I will proudly say that I have ceased to harbor resentment, knowing it only taints my soul and heart (while the one who hurt me is likely going through life in a carefree manner). As far as retaliation is concerned, I don’t have a spiteful, revengeful bone in my body, Ms. Non-Confrontational. But again, I’m of the opinion that the Universe has a way of establishing justice and that karma is real; furthermore, as our holy book the Qur’an, says: “Truth stands out clear from error” (2:256) and “God does not ignore the reward of those who do good” (9:120).
In agreement that there are many ways, reasons, and portions to forgiving a person, I wish to proclaim a few of them here. As you read, I invite you to offer forgiveness to those you have not, or think about how you’d add onto, expand, or adjust the following to fit your own experiences. Let us heal together.
1. Forgive Yourself:
Forgive yourself for not being stronger, for not standing up for yourself that one time when it could’ve made all the difference.
Forgive yourself for making such a fool of yourself, i.e., exposing your heart, sharing your deepest secret, your dreams, revealing your true self to others, and yet not receiving the positive feedback that you hoped for and craved.
Forgive yourself for wrongfully covering the actions of someone you loved—a spouse, a child, or a friend—who abused or took undue advantage of another innocent person. You did it because you were in a state of panic, heartbreak, and you thought you were acting out of love, and perhaps felt that you were acting for the greater good. If you haven’t, address and rectify the injustice to the wronged person to the extent that you are able, but still forgive yourself.
Forgive yourself for not believing in yourself enough to follow your heart’s desire and live your life to the fullest.
2. Forgive Your Friend:
Forgive the friend who didn’t show up for you in a manner you deemed appropriate or sufficient. Don’t read too much into why you were not invited to the big party, wedding, or baby shower.
Forgive the friend who didn’t offer the kind of support that you desired when you were going through that crisis or transition in your life, e.g., job loss, depression, divorce, marriage, childbirth, illness, or death.
A personal plea: Forgive the friend who comes to your hometown and didn’t notify you ahead of time or contact you to connect once there.
Forgive the friend who betrayed your trust and compelled you to end the relationship to maintain a sense of integrity for all parties involved.
Forgive your friend for turning into someone you no longer recognized.
Forgive the friend who chose someone, some cause, some story, some opportunity over you, yours, or the friendship you shared. Remember that he or she is striving to manage their event and emotion-filled lives in a purposeful, meaningful way, as you are.
3. Forgive your parents:
Dear Lord, forgive your parents, even if takes all the strength your fragile heart possesses. Forgive them for not showing up when you needed them most, which could’ve been everyday (depending on how old you were).
Forgive them for not making that school performance, the sports event, or the anticipated family gathering. Forgive your parents for not being perfect. Forgive them for not showing you how to do everything that you’re suddenly forced to do or become in adulthood.
Forgive them for not being a good example. Chances are, they did the best with what they’d been given. Forgive them for not adequately loving or caring for those that you did, to a similar degree, i.e., your child, your spouse of choice, your lifestyle, etc.
Forgive your parent for choosing to live his or her life without your other parent by their side. Forgive them for those awkward, painful times when you called them on their lack of care and negligence in these areas, only to be dismissed as overly sensitive, irrational, selfish, petty, or disrespectful even.
And always remember how God hath placed our parents in high regard: “And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say, ‘My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood’” (17:24).
4. Forgive Your Spouse:
(Breathe in. Exhale.)
Forgive your spouse for ever promising to be a certain kind of man or woman, because the minute they broke their promise in any manner, your heart was broken as well. If only they’d never uttered or written those words. If they had made no such promises, forgive your spouse for not measuring up to the man or woman that you had envisioned or senselessly fantasized about.
Forgive your spouse for not guarding your heart in a way that you deemed only right or allowing others into your sacred circle to wreak havoc upon it. Forgive your spouse for never actualizing into the kind of father or mother that you felt your children needed or deserved or for not modeling their best self to your children.
Forgive your spouse for putting others before your trusts, your interests, your dreams, your health, or your heart. Forgive your spouse for criticizing you and reminding you of your shortcomings, or requesting that you grow in certain areas. Most likely, they acted from good intentions yet failed to advise with compassion and tenderness.
Forgive your spouse, though it may take everything in you, for turning to the arms and heart of another man or woman, seeking validation, affection, healing, connection, friendship, or time, when they should have sought and fought for that in you.
Forgive your spouse for being human and reaching those low spaces where they lose their faith in God. Your spouse is destined to return to good, for it is God’s Will to be known.
Note: Forgiveness does not mean sticking your head in the snakes’ basket, “but instead responding from a stance of mercy, security, and preparedness” (Estes). Similarly, a dear friend of the heart reminded me to watch out for “the poison of revenge and anger, which truly poisons the love that pours out of you.” This friend reminded me that, “by generating anger towards him [or her], he still has a power over you that he does not deserve.”
**And for those needing to forgive an ex-spouse, Dr. Estes reminds us: “You are free to go. It may not have turned out to be a happily ever after, but most certainly there is now a fresh Once upon a time waiting for you from this day forward.”
5. Forgive anyone you have ever loved or anyone who has ever hurt you (or someone you love):
Forgive because forgiving is a divine act. God is Oft-Forgiving, as our faith tradition reminds us constantly.
“Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.” (Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him)