Editor’s note: April Fields gave us permission to share an excerpt from a book project she’s working on that touches on the purpose and the process of forgiveness. We asked her to give a bit of context for this piece. She wrote:
Sometimes you start writing a book, with great good intention, you might even put serious mental and emotional effort into the composition for months and then something derails you and you stop. Six years might go by and you move on, the project files sink deeper into your computer’s cache.
Then one day, out of the blue, you read something that nudges a dormant memory, you type in a key word and find the old file. You sit stunned as you read things you wrote years ago that ignites an old energy that once had your fingers flying on the keyboard recording interviews with a commitment to raising awareness to a darker side of society that gets very little attention – the untold stories of those who have survived abuse.You decide maybe it’s worth finishing after all. You wonder if maybe God wanted it delayed because the topic might be bigger than you first thought.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Sometimes, in the middle of taking notes, as I listen to yet another horrific story of abuse, the narrator and I have to stop and breathe. To pause long enough to let the suppressed pain struggle its way up and out. Take a sip of water. Tears flow and do their part.
When the interviewee is able to resume we are both even more committed to seeing it through. We know it’s important to face it head on, to get it out. As difficult as it is the task is somewhat easier when everything is in the past. One who is still suffering under daily emotional or verbal torture speaks with halted half finished sentences. As though the abuser might be listening or perhaps the revealing is a kind of betrayal. These are the most heart-wrenching tales, the ones that do not seem to have a happy ending in sight.
I’m not a licensed psychologist. I’m merely an advocate. I listen with the goal to ease pain and ofter new perspective as I gather stories. So many stories. I admit I don’t have real solutions either other than consolation and prayer. Though my intentions were noble at the outset, I’ve had to admit that assembling the stories in a book form isn’t going to stop the madness.
Initially I thought the project would be an eye opener. A cautionary tale to expose the red flags that might prevent other stories from occurring needlessly. Two years into this I realized no one who is in the honeymoon phase of being taken in by a toxic person would pay any attention or see themselves in the process of becoming a victim. That is an undeniable, if difficult to accept, truth about how humans are indeed so easily duped.
No, to carry on with this I had to admit that this was more about offering catharsis from telling their stories and hopefully offering coping skills for those who have been there/done that. So, I am the one who gets to hear perhaps, if for no other reason, because I am the one willing to listen.
I volunteered, but I didn’t seek this job – it found me. The stories came. They started with family members and friends and then my insatiable curiosity was stirred up with desire to understand the smarmy world of disordered minds. Thus a dark door creaked opened. I agreed to walk through.
For all the stories that are not finished, there are also bright spots of hope that it is possible to overcome and move on. I see a recurring conclusion that the quickest healing transition comes after the victim can experience, actually feel, forgiveness.
Easier said than done but also it isn’t always what humankind expects it to be. Sometimes forgiveness can only be measured in degrees based on the circumstances and ranges from being able to pray for an offender’s soul to nothing more than adopting an attitude of wishing no ill will toward another.
Forgiveness is such a good word though. It rallies endorphins that bathe the brain and dulls pain. It conjures up images of hugs and happy tears. Joyful endings. It covers both religious and humanistic calls to reconciliation.
There are some great examples of extraordinary forgiveness that stand out to support both the religious and humanistic views. When Corrie ten Boom, years after WW2, met the guard who had brutally tortured her and her sister, she had a moment to decide – forgive or not. The story is retold with compelling tension and as she made her choice, the point was brought home that to forgive is indeed divine. Would it not be incredibly wonderful if all human angst could be resolved like this?
As dramatic as Corrie’s life story is, as inspiring as the outcome, it does not, and indeed cannot, represent all stories of human suffering at the hand of another. That the guard asked for her forgiveness is a unique twist in the account. In the years between his horrific actions and his meeting Corrie again, he had found Christ and accepted his wrongdoing. He asked to be forgiven, first by Christ and then in a face to face meeting with the person he so harmed. A perfect closure.
How often does this happen, though, really? How often does someone who has abused another actually admit he or she has done anything wrong? If statistics exist to cite, one could guess the numbers would reflect that most abusers, con-men, toxic people of every kind, do not know, admit or care that they have done any harm to anyone. In the case of genuine psychopaths, they not only believe they are not at fault, they are self-justified in anything they do.
The question always comes – how does one forgive someone who is in no way repentant and, in fact, would continue abusing if given the opportunity?
Some life dramas are bigger than others, the devastation more brutal, more traumatizing, life altering. Some situations are simply not forgettable and many would argue not forgivable. In these cases perhaps the best realistic advice should be, forgive the act, but remember the lesson. But what does that really mean? From a philosophical view it might suggest that to accept that which was done as an ‘adding to’ rather than taking away from you. Instead of allowing the experience to be all about the horrible doer, think of it as the forming/refining of you, who you are, who you want to be. Who you never considered you could be. Who God wants you to be.
Unfortunately, no one who remains enslaved to fear and mental oppression created by another’s actions, even long after being freed from the circumstances, can ever truly be free from the memories. But why grant the abuser the ability to continue to cause havoc in you long after he or she is out of your life?
If you could but count the ways your experience with a toxic person has made you stronger, wiser, more discerning, less vulnerable, more dependent on God’s will for you, then you are, in effect, saying that you prefer to choose to see the glass half full, refuse to be bitter, revengeful, hating or grudge bearing. This is the true definition of forgiveness in the flesh as well as the spirit. It starts with positive attitude and ends with fruitful resolve that then leads to another kind of healing that takes into consideration that there might have been a purpose for all the trouble.
Purpose is an even better word than forgiveness. – April S. Fields
Though difficult to admit, there’s always a gain to be had in a lesson hard earned, even if it was nothing more than a big dose of embracing the emancipating attitude of an overcomer. Truly the only thing we own in this life, and have complete control over, is our attitude. There is an old saying that the only difference between an exhilarating adventure and a horrifying ordeal is nothing but attitude.
Let it go, let it go, the song calls out to put the past behind, but, in fact, is indeed much easier said than done, so this is not a touchy-feely sermon about let go and let God. How lame it is to tell someone who is suffering from mental or physical damage to suck it up and just be happy! Forgive and forget! Right? Tell someone who is in hiding with her child from a psychopath that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and see how much help that is.
No, this is not a toothless platitude but an actionable cause to effect. A returning of the reigns to the one who has been thrown off the horse. An opportunity to see with new vision, to search for and add up the ways one is actually better by the tough work of becoming that is only gained in the sum of all life experiences.
The simple answer is not so obvious because it comes in a whisper instead of a shout and is therefore often drowned out by all the good sounding words.
Perhaps it is not a visible turning point but a slow process that begins with a single small choice. Instead of letting go, why not determine to take advantage of the experience instead? Acknowledge and then climb up on top of that garbage heap of hurtful memory that threatens to keep you disabled. Consider it to be your personal chance to touch the open sky.
Perhaps it is as simple as asking the question – is there something God wants me to do with this? Is it possible to compose a list of five positive results from your experience that might bring liberating results? You might look back one day and acknowledge that the worst thing to have happened to you was also your opportunity to rise like a star. You might even feel a sudden impulse to say, “Thank you!”
That’s when you will know what the emancipating power of forgiveness feels like.
About April Fields: Mother, wife, grandmother, I have many titles. I do Print-On-Demand publishing, web design and graphic design. But none of these tags matter much, in the big scheme of things. When a little voice calls, “Meema, I want to show you something”, I answer because that is my best job so far. I’m just Meema. April blogs at bagsallpacked.blogspot.com.