What Exactly Is Forgiveness?

There were a lot of good comments on my post about me becoming a publicist for bitterness and grudges. I decided I had way too much to say to respond individually so I decided to write a follow up post.

Maybe it’s a matter of semantics. Maybe it really is a different philosophy. What I do know is not forgiving does not equal holding onto anger.  It does not equal hating that person. It does not equal refusing to accept your new reality, or refusing to accept that this person will never be who or what you thought they were, or wanted them to be. It does not equal seeking vengeance. At least not for me. It simply means I do not forgive that person for what they did. It means that what they did was so egregious that I am writing them off because it is pointless to try to mend this fractured relationship.

I can fully embrace Tracy Schorn’s philosophy. I no longer wish you dead; consider yourself forgiven. I’m also a big fan of the idea of reaching that blissful state of “Meh” where you simply don’t care about the person who hurt you one way or the other.

What does that mean for me and Jerry Lee? It means I’m not sitting around waiting for the karma bus to run his ass over. I don’t celebrate his failures and I don’t cheer on his successes. When his mother died it was a non-event. I didn’t feel horrible for him; I wasn’t torn up inside. I didn’t retreat to my bedroom and sob for our lost relationship and the fact that there would no longer be chances to make amends. I also didn’t kick up my heels and giggle with glee that he was going through a very painful moment. I didn’t give a toast and chant, “Ding dong the witch is dead!” or, “Ha ha, suck it, Jerry Lee! Karma’s a bitch!”

It means that when The Saint told me he was still sleeping with Harley, had in fact fucked her soon after Jerry Lee left to come back “home”, I got a momentary feeling of satisfaction. But in the end I didn’t crow about it and I didn’t tell him about it. I knew it was pointless. Jerry Lee wouldn’t have believed that his beloved cousin would cheat on him with all the money he was throwing her way. They really really liked each other after all, and they were leaving their spouses to be with one another.

It means that every time I start to feel bitter and resentful about everything he’s put me through I remind myself of how blessed I am to be with the mobster and how that wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t cheated on me. It means I look at my kids and remind myself that I’m the lucky parent that gets to spend time with them and be a part of their lives. I remind myself that money didn’t buy happiness with him. I can adapt. I can persevere. I can overcome.

It means my life goes on every day without reading up on his, trying to figure out what he’s doing, where he’s going, what he’s bought, if he’s still with her.

My situation at present is a little more complicated because I’m still forced to deal with him. I’m still dependent upon him. When he’s living in a nice big house and claiming he can’t afford to pay what he’s supposed to for support, we have a problem. We are undoubtedly going back to court soon and there is also the matter of the garnishment. He’s going to be pissed about both of those and I’m sure there will be fallout. So, I’m not saying I’m 100% there right now as far as not knowing what goes on with him. I have to know certain things. I wish I didn’t. He’s never far from my mind because I’m always thinking about how I’m going to frame my case in court. Having to defend every move you make is exhausting. Having to second guess every decision is also exhausting. I’m exhausted a lot. 

Even with all of this that’s going on I wouldn’t say I hate him most of the time. Oh, there are definitely moments, especially when it involves my children. I will never not hate him when I see either of my children suffering because of his choices. It may be brief but it will always be there.

Most of the time, however, it is simply a fact. His stupidity is interwoven in my life. How do I resolve this problem he’s thrown my way? How do I juggle this? Oh, that was an interesting twist. He’s doing what? Jesus Christ on crutches, is he an idiot or what? Sigh and sigh again.

When I read about people forgiving others and they write about forgiving for their own peace of mind, or because they can’t carry that burden, or it becomes mentally exhausting I again wonder if we are simply talking about the same thing using different phrases.

For me forgiving someone requires action on my part. It’s not deciding to let something go, choosing not to hate that person, or being okay with what happened. It’s not passive. It requires something more than simply saying, “I forgive you,” whether it’s actually said to the person or to yourself.

In my situation with Jerry Lee I could say, “I forgive you.” I’ve said before I think he would be offended by that. He doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong. He believes he is the victim and I am the bad guy. Nevertheless, let’s pretend we’ve crossed that hurdle. I say I forgive him. What does that mean?

Does it mean I drop this garnishment case against him? Does it mean I stop going after the legal fees he owes me? Do I start lying to my kids and tell them how wonderful he is and how much he loves them and how they should cut him some slack because it’s difficult to merge two families? How much action on my part does this forgiveness take? Am I now supposed to be happy for him and Harley? Wish them the best? Hope for only good things for them? Do I offer to do things for them or is it enough to be willing to take on all the blame? Do we all go out together for dinner? Do we spend the holidays together? Am I just saying the words or do I need to do something?

For some when they talk of forgiveness I get the sense that it means they no longer dwell on what happened; they are choosing to let it go. “We’ll no longer talk of this. It is in the past.” Maybe, “I will no longer think about these things; I will not let any of this invade my day to day life. I won’t let it ruin my future.” Maybe for some it’s a matter of telling themselves, “This person is the way they are. I can’t change that and I accept them with all their limitations.”

Or, they verbalize this forgiveness and yet there is no subsequent relationship with that person. “I forgive you. I don’t wish to have dinner with you. I don’t want to run errands for you. I don’t want to see you ever again. But I forgive you.”

Again, for me, forgiving requires action. It requires more than saying the words: I. Forgive. You.

Back in February of 2015 during the time that Jerry Lee was in the psych ward I was on the phone with Tammy Faye. At one point she told me I needed to forgive him if we were ever going to truly move forward. I remember telling her that I had forgiven him. I reminded her I had moved across the damn country for him. I (stupidly) voluntarily moved six hours away from his mistress instead of insisting we remain a safe 25 or 26 hours away from her. I put his happiness and his wants ahead of mine and ahead of my kids.

To me, that is forgiveness. I didn’t just say the words. I took actions that showed I forgave him. I did things that weren’t in my best interest and weren’t in my kids’ best interests, all to demonstrate my forgiveness and my investment in our relationship. It cost me dearly.

If you’ll indulge me I’ll give you another example of what I consider to be the difference between forgiving and not forgiving and how that “not forgiving” looks.

Many, many years ago when I was a young, stupid 21 year old I came home for the summer and began dating a guy. We’ll call him Dick, mainly because in real life that’s what we ended up calling him.

We’d gone out for about a month when he decided he’d rather date one of my best friends. I preferred that he not dump me for one of my best friends. Truth be told I didn’t think I was madly in love with him, nor did I think we would end up married one day; nonetheless, I did not want him dating one of my best friends, especially if he was going to dump me in order to do so.

I let my feelings be known to my best friend and she swore she wouldn’t see him or get involved with him.

A few days later my other best friend and I asked her if she wanted to go out with us. She declined. I went into sleuth mode and we drove by his house to see if she was over there.

She was.

I was devastated. We went back to my house and I proceeded to stab the small stuffed cow she had bought me as I sobbed and cried in grief. I could not believe she would betray me like that. And to lie about it as well? It’s not like she could hide it from me.

Spoiler alert: He wasn’t a prince for her either. I don’t think they dated for more than a month or so, if that. He ended up telling her that his mother had died. She had not. My friend ended up running into her somehow. Shocked the crap out of her and definitely shed light on his character.

Along with the whole “dead mother” thing he had also told me he flew helicopters and he had his very own flight song, like in Top Gun. I told you I was young and dumb. He also said some horrible, horrible things about me and said some horrible things to me when discarding me for my best friend.

I stewed about their relationship and our broken friendship for most of the remaining summer. Thoughts of becoming an alcoholic crossed my mind. I’m not sure why. Thankfully I realized they wouldn’t care. The only person I would be hurting would be myself. Thoughts of planting drugs in his car and reporting him to the police crossed my mind as well. Thankfully I had no idea how to procure such drugs so that remained nothing but a fantasy. Plus, I probably would have been caught and thrown in jail myself.  I envisioned many times getting the chance to tell him off or to punch him in the face. My short story, Killing the Anti-Christ, is about him.

What does this have to do with forgiveness, you may be wondering. You sound like a whackadoodle, Sam, with all your planting drugs on people and killing them off. What can I say? I have a vivid imagination. And I’ve grown up a little bit since I was 21.

I forgave one of them. The other one I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire.

That friend? Was Sweet J.

We were not on speaking terms for approximately two years. Maybe not quite that long. Life went on. I dated other guys. Dropped out of college for a semester. Took up running. Went back and graduated.

We had mutual friends. One of them got married and she (Sweet J) was the maid of honor at the wedding . We spoke then and were civil. We had to be. That was the beginning.

I found that I missed her; time had passed. Looking back on it it was easy to see that we were no longer friends over a guy that neither of us was with and neither one of us ever wanted to marry.  Oh, and did I mention he was evil?

I’m not exactly sure how it ever ended but when she got married 4 years after this all went down I was a reader at her wedding. She was a bridesmaid at mine six months later.

I was one of the first people she called when she found out she was pregnant. I went and visited her after she had her son. I checked up on her after she had her mental collapse. I was a shoulder to cry on when she was going through her divorce and all the difficulties leading up to it.

She called and checked on me repeatedly while I was going through my divorce. This last time when I thought he was no longer paying once again her reply was an immediate, “That sonofabitch!” Followed by telling me she wanted to find him, punch him in the balls and yell at him, “You know why!”

We go out dancing and we go out to dinner on a regular basis.

She has apologized for what she did, although it wasn’t necessary.

I have forgiven her. I haven’t just moved on from what happened. I forgave her and we rekindled our friendship.

Dick, on the other hand? I have not forgotten the cruel things he said and did. I have no use for him.

Sometime between finding out my husband was cheating on me in August of 2015 and moving in with my mom in July of 2016 I got a friend request on Facebook from him. I had to ask Sweet J if she remembered what his last name was because I thought it was him but I couldn’t remember his last name. That’s how little I think about him. I didn’t know for certain if that was him or not because I couldn’t remember his last name.

She confirmed it was him. I thanked her, declined the friend request and blocked him. End of story.

When people say they forgive because they can’t hang on to all that anger and rage I don’t understand what they’re talking about. I haven’t forgiven him for those things he said and did, but I’m certainly not expending any energy hating him either. Those days of plotting his demise are long over. I declined a friend request and blocked him so he wouldn’t taint my life ever again.

It’s been 29 years, 30 this summer, since everything happened. I forgave Sweet J after a period of time. We have a great friendship. I’m happy that we are still a part of each other’s lives because it would have been a shame to end a great friendship over a guy neither of us ended up with. I will never forgive Dick. I don’t feel one bit guilty about it. There’s not an ounce of hatred in my heart; there’s not even a flicker of anger. Aside from the 20-30 minutes I spent perusing his Facebook page, checking to see if there were any friends or pictures I recognized to suss out whether or not this was the person I thought it was I haven’t thought about him at all since that summer of 1990.

Truth be told there are a very limited number of people on my “enemies” list, as Jerry Lee would call it. My enemies list is not as nefarious as it sounds. The vast majority of the people on this list (and we’re talking maybe 8-10 people in a 50 year lifespan) don’t even register with me anymore. I probably still wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire, but I don’t fantasize about setting them on fire either. I don’t think about them period. I don’t hate them. I don’t wish them dead. Even the three that do still register with me I don’t hate. I don’t wish them dead. I’m not fantasizing about some amazing revenge scheme.

Okay, I will confess that sometimes I fantasize about winning the lottery and buying Jerry Lee and Harley’s rental house and just imagining the look on their faces when I inform them that I’m their new landlord and they’re living in my house. As far as revenge fantasies go I think that’s pretty benign. I don’t even envision kicking them out.

So maybe it is a matter of semantics. Maybe when others say they forgive a person what they mean is they are no longer angry at that person. They no longer hate that person. They’re no longer plotting against him or her, regardless of whether the plots are based in reality or fantasy. Maybe they mean they no longer care what that person is doing. I don’t know.

What I do know is that when I say I don’t forgive a person it doesn’t mean I’m spending any amount of time on that person. It doesn’t mean I hate that person or that I’m angry with him or her still. It doesn’t mean I’m plotting against them or wish ill on them. It means, in the simplest terms, I don’t forgive them. Period. What they did is not okay with me. I don’t want to have a relationship with them. I don’t want to spend time with them. I might even go so far as to say I don’t think they are a good person.

I would like for them to go live their life and for them to leave me alone and let me go live my life. Don’t send me a Facebook friend request. Don’t tell me things can be civil. Don’t spread lies about me and expect me to act like that’s okay. Just go away.

I also know that when I do forgive a person I forgive them whole heartedly. I’m open to having a relationship with that person who has been forgiven. I am willing to do my best to get back to that point where we were before. I invest in the relationship. I am willing to demonstrate my forgiveness.

That’s the difference for me. Forgiveness is rekindling my friendship with Sweet J. Going out dancing on Friday or Saturday nights. Going to dinner. Exchanging Christmas gifts. Being a part of one another’s lives. Taking that 6 a.m. phone call when she thinks someone is following her and she wants someone on the phone with her as she walks out to her car. Looking at apartments with her when she got out of a bad relationship. Not forgiving is declining a friend request from Dick and then blocking him because I still don’t wish to have him in my life.

5 thoughts on “What Exactly Is Forgiveness?

  1. I agree with you. My ex husband destroyed who I was as a person. He does not get my forgiveness for that, even though I like who I am and where I am far more now than when I was with him. The work I have done to claw my way back from rock bottom was because of my determination, not his actions. I have moved on and up, and I don’t think about him most days. That does not equal forgiveness. What he did was unforgivable. But im not stuck on it. Im not mired in my anger. I have moved on. Forgiving him had nothing to with it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Forgiveness is a deep subject. I suspect it is a bit of semantics and a personal timeline. Everyone, regardless of how similar the circumstances, lives and feels things differently. The pain and uncertainty is real. The struggle is real. For me, forgiveness is about me, because I don’t want to invest my time and energy in him. I need to use my determination for me.

    This time, I don’t have children to consider, but when my 1st husband left, 40 odd years ago, I had a 6 year old. Yes, I lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, struggled to keep my house, worked overtime every chance I could just to provide for me and my son. My parents stepped in and fed us when they could, and kept him at night so I could work night shift. As Lanen said, it takes determination. It isn’t easy, by any means. That Dick, that I married so long ago… I haven’t thought about him in years.

    I feel your pain, and I know it is real. I pray that everything works out for you, and you never have to think about your ex again.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I loved this. I too have written about forgiveness, and it is so difficult to define. I think it is about each persons perception. I said to someone when you look up a definition of a word and it leads you on to many other words you know there is no hard and fast definition. Where my H is concerned I do forgive him because he worked so hard to evolve and grow, and I understand the background story, but do I forgive him some of the things he said? No, he was a knob! But I don’t dwell on it. My late parents wrote me out of their will and gave it all to my sibling. I love them dearly, but I don’t forgive them. Their decision was flawed and cruel. But that doesn’t stop me loving them either! Such a difficult subject but I love your take on it. Not least that I giggled at some of it. If it’s okay I am going to share. ❤️


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