With the beginning of a new year come thoughts of starting fresh with a clean slate. It is like having an opportunity for a do-over. It is a time to re-evaluate and set new goals. It is also a time to look inward and humbly accept responsibility for areas of our life that need a little work.
Sometimes, if we are really honest with ourselves, we begin to recognize that some of our attitudes and behaviors towards others are less than stellar. If we are being brutally honest with ourselves, we recognize that these attitudes and behaviors, whether intentional or not, have probably inflicted wounds on those around us. Taking responsibility for our own actions is not easy, but if we want to grow, it is necessary.
But what do we do with the anger and pain left behind when we have been wounded by someone, by no choice of our own?
Maybe someone broke your trust, maybe you have been cheated out of something that was rightfully yours, maybe you have been verbally or physically victimized. It doesn't really matter what the source of the wound is, the baggage left behind will eventually begin to decay and give off a rotten stench if it is left sitting around too long.
When you have been deeply wounded by someone, the pain is excruciating, and the rage is intense. Rightly so. It is tempting and natural to cling tightly to the ache in your heart and allow the anger deep inside you to fester. Bitterness is filled with lies. It gives the illusion of being a powerful weapon that you can wield against your offender but holding tightly to the pain and anger only keeps you in chains. You end up handcuffed to the thing you want so desperately to erase.
A speaker sister of mine, Brittany Piper, shared the following story of her journey on Facebook recently. I was in the midst of writing this blog post and was looking for a real-life story demonstrating the effects of bitterness and the power of letting it go when I saw a notification pop up on my screen. I get distracted very easily and I'm compelled to get rid of those little red notification dots as soon as they appear, something I am working to let go of this year, lol! Anyway... when I read her post, I almost fell out of my chair ~ it was exactly what I was looking for! I know her story will inspire you more than anything else I could possibly hope to write on this subject.
January 13, 2019
I forgive the stranger that brutally raped and beat me nearly ten years ago. The man that haunted me from behind metal bars as he served a 60 year sentence. The man that put me in the hospital, with emotional and physical wounds to last a lifetime. The man that dragged me through a two-year court and trial process of retraumatization and an attempted character assasination.
I know it’s hard for some people to understand or even agree with how I could forgive a “cold-blooded monster." But the truth is, I use to be a monster myself. Many people don’t know that a short while after my attack, I ended up behind those same metal bars. My pain had turned to anger and boiled over into blind rage and hatred for the world around me—a violent combination I drunkenly took out on two police offers who were just trying to do their job.
I realized in that jail cell that by holding onto my hatred, I was still his hostage. I was tired of feeling shackled to him, shackled to the personal anger that he forced upon me, that I then internalized and spread into the world. It was a cycle of hatred I wanted to end. So instead I chose forgiveness. And rather than being blind with rage, the forgiveness allowed me to see him with eyes of compassion and empathy.
I reflected back on the childhood stories of suffering that his lawyers illustrated as they pleaded his case. He was orphaned at the age of 8, was raised by a single aunt as 1 of 10 children, had poor schooling and mental & physical health conditions. It all made sense. You see he had allowed his pain to make him bitter, full of hatred and violent. But I could make a different choice. So instead I allowed my pain to make me better, softer & more loving.
I choose empathy & forgiveness because God intended for me to be free. It doesn’t excuse what he did. It doesn’t mean his actions don’t equate for the punishment he’s serving.
I’ve contemplated over the years going to visit him in prison. What would he think? What would I say? Ultimately, I wish that he’d see that despite how shitty this world can be, there’s still hope that we can come out better on the other side. Who knows, maybe there’s hope for him too. Just maybe, he can be redeemed. #survivor #forgiveness #redeemed
May God bless you as you continue to use your story to help others Brittany!
It is my heart's desire to do everything in my power to make 2019 a year filled with great joy. Bitterness is a joy stealer! My friend, your pain may have been inflicted upon you by no choice of your own, but you do not have to be imprisoned by it! Do not allow bitterness to rob you of your joy any longer! Don't waste another second, choose to be set free today!
Brittany Piper is a leading national expert on sexual violence & prevention, and a co-founder and healing coach of On The Mend—a women’s healing retreat which supports survivors of trauma by empowering self-love. She is also a rape survivor, soon-to-be author, photojournalist for women’s organizations in conflict countries, and the founder of Love Conquers Photography—a renown social-enterprise dedicated to ending child marriage.