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.
Wow. Thanks for vulnerably sharing. There is deep wisdom in this.
thanks: You knew what you were talking about. 🙂 I just reccomnded it to my missionary/pastor cousin in Equador who shared this post.
Well done, Carol. Forgiveness is never a once-and-done kind of deal. Sometimes, it takes a lifetime. Congrats on the new gig, my friend!!
Thanks Diana. Michelle helps me write better and has become a good friend. I found her when I registered to go to an event in the area. She turned out not to be going, but it was our connection.
Thanks for sharing – this is so wise and truthful. It really spoke to me.
My cousnelor says it this way: “True and lasting forgiveness is usually not an attainable goal in it of itself. Rather it is a bi-product of working through big emotions. After alot of tears and anger, at some point one realizes they have forgiven.” Of course he said that AFTER reading this post! I’ll keep it for the future.
So profound Carol, and necessary for me to read… so often I have forgiven only to find out I need to forgive more. *U* Kathleen
How delightful to see you here, Kathleen. Thanks for your response.
Thanks, Carol, for sharing our story with deep insight.
Thanks, Carol, for sharing our story with deep insight.
Yes, it was OUR story and y ou were there during and watched and listened to me process. I love you for it. and more
Thank you for this. It’s so simple, yet profound. Forgiveness isn’t a one time deal. It’s incremental. How freeing!
Peggi, don’t you wish we had know long before: but now we do. It’s something I want to write for my grandchildren in my story.
Carol, this ministered to me in a deep way. I appreciate your transparency.
Elizabeth, Thanks for visiting this site and for your comment. I had written a shorter version 3 years ago, but not ready to go into it as much as now that more time has passed. Michelle asked more questions and encouraged me to go deeper in the writing to reflect more of my journey. Good to hear from you.
Hi Carol. Thanks for keeping me on this list. I know life has taken us on different paths, but I still think of you and the lessons I learned at that point in my life. Now I am learning new lessons in this chapter of my life. It has not been easy taking care of my parents, especially in the last 5 months. I am emotionally and physically drained. I am having a hard time dealing with family members and need to forgive them for hurtful words. It is so difficult! I keep thinking about how I am no better than them. I have sinned against them in the past too. Christ has forgiven me for the many times I have sinned. Why is it so hard to move on after you have been hurt? I can’t trust the people so I withdraw. Then they wonder why. Please pray for me. Maybe we should talk sometime.
Julie, please hear me. You must have support from somewhere. I went to the Senior center whet I met w a social worker who basically saved my life,, plus friends who loved me. And you are not bad for the feelings you feel. You are hurting and life is hard right now. Please, yes. Let’s talk. Message me on Facebook. K!
I will message you on FB. Thanks!
Thanks once again, Carol, for transparently sharing your heart and journey with the world. I gained as much from your replies to the comments as I did the essay itself. You are so wise and I am so privileged to be able to count you among my inner circle. I love you, my friend!!!
so nice to see you here Kim. I have had good people build into me and I am grateful, so grateful. thanks for your response here.
Hi Carol, this is beautiful, powerful and tender. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and wisdom so others can benefit too, including myself. Keep writing – your voice makes a difference!