by Carol Hiestand

“It’s a cold dreary day in April and the tulips are drooping this morning. I feel like the tulips.”

I wrote these words to a friend a two weeks after a life changing decision thrust upon us – one we had no part in making and no warning of it coming.” It involved yet another messy transition from a significant leadership position. Very few knew the details. It looked like a budget cut to onlookers. To us, felt like betrayal and in a dysfunctional way it was. There was “blame” on both sides. It never came to a nice tidy solution. Christian organizations, including churches, are notorious for messy transitions and we had experienced our share of them. As with losses like these, I lost my role. My circle of trusted friends narrowed down to four people I could trust with the hurt and the anger.

This loss was compounded by the unexpected loss of my brother, my one remaining sibling, four months earlier. I described it to someone like this. Losing my brother was like falling off the cruise ship in the middle of a storm. While I had a lifeboat and the supplies I needed to survive, it was swept off into the ocean. It was a time of grief, fear and despair. I was beginning to catch occasional glimpses of land ahead, believing I would survive when this new loss occurred, pushing me further back out into the ocean of despair and grief.

“I guess I’d better forgive,” I continued.

My wise friend responded, “Don’t rush to quick forgiveness without first dealing with the pain and anger. When you think you have forgiven and there is more anger, it doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. It means you have more to forgive.”

It was what I needed to hear. I felt deep down relief. I had been feeling the burden of needing to forgive,  when forgiving was the last thing I wanted to think about. I had been taught I needed to do this quickly as “a good Christian, for my own good, so I would have peace.” In my church world, I heard much about the necessity of making a choice to forgive, and very little about paying attention to the emotions surrounding a hurtful situation. Furthermore, I trusted my friend. I knew he had been doing his own work with a counselor around hurts he had experienced in ministry. With that, I began to realize the freedom of owning my own hurt and anger. Had I skipped this important step, the hurt and anger would have rooted deep inside me and I suspect I would still have it down there somewhere, affecting me in ways I could not understand like anger turned toward other things and people, or inward to depression, and growing bitterness and guilt for not forgiving. I have since learned my emotions have something to tell me. Emotions are not my enemy.

The advice from my friend to deal with the hurt and anger before rushing to forgive launched me on a long journey toward forgiveness. It is said forgiving starts with a choice. I have come to understand the choice part is determining to work toward forgiveness without putting a time-table on the how and when of the its unfolding in my life. Marc Alan Schelske says in his book, The Wisdom of Your Heart, Emotions are meant to bring to mind crucial information about our hearts and circumstances. Carefully handled, they are messengers of truth. Giving proper and appropriate attention to our emotions is one of the ways we learn and grow. It’s also one of the places the Holy Spirit works most deeply in our lives.

While I didn’t have Marc’s words then, reading them this past year only affirmed what my friend told me. During the months that followed, I participated in group spiritual formation, group, where I learned to journal and write letters to God, pouring out all my emotions, listening to what he might have for me, writing in the form of a letter back to me. My four trusted friends became my “posse” as one of them put it.

As the first anniversary of my brother’s death approached a year and a half later, I was overwhelmed with both losses. One night in my group, I sensed God inviting me to give him my anger and hurt in a gift box. He would hold it for me. I asked him to let me know when it was time to give this attention again. Three months later in the same group, God used Scripture to tell me it was time. Shortly after this, I realized as I walked around the indoor track, I could pray and say “I forgive.”  And I knew it was real for this time.

Yes, I forgave and then had to forgive some more, but I didn’t spend time in needless shame, wondering if my forgiveness was real the first time. It’s been a number of years now. Although I can remember the pain and the grief of that loss, it is no longer front and center. Perhaps I’ll have to forgive yet again and I will remember choosing to deal with the hurt and the anger is the first step to take toward forgiveness.

Carol Hiestand writes when inspired about things that often go unnoticed, and sees herself as a storyteller.  She’s a a wife, mom, grandmother, and friend living right in the middle of the second half of life. She’s passionate about writing to and for her grandchildren about her life, passing on the things she’s learned. You’ll often find her immersed in making photo books for our family, working to keep our scattered family connected.  She’s a lover of all shades of purple and rose.  Lilacs, waterfalls, any body of water, porch swings and Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi (when she can find it!) make her happy.

Photo by CHU TAI on Unsplash