Finding the grace in forgiveness
by Christy Sillman
Forgiveness takes time.
Time to convince yourself that anger is a waste of energy. Time to reflect on the reality of the situation. Time to shed the victim skin and embrace the complexities within each of us.
Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
Raised as a Catholic, I’m no stranger to the concept of forgiveness. Catholicism has a distinct focus on forgiveness — forgiveness of others and asking God for forgiveness of one’s self. It’s the reason Catholic priests visit death row inmates. Reconciliation is a sacrament of forgiveness – where God “uses the sacrament to reconcile us to Himself by restoring sanctifying grace in our souls” (about.com). It’s the reason that despite many conflicting beliefs with the Catholic church, I continue to call myself a Catholic and return to the church. One day, the church will ask God to forgive them for their hateful treatment of “social outcasts” and truly follow Jesus’ lead.
Forgiveness in all reality is very hard to achieve. The key to forgiveness is empathy.
In the summer of 1998, I graduated from high school with my best friend Sarah by my side. A week after graduation, we took a vacation to Santa Cruz, just the two of us. It was one of the happiest times in my life. One week after our vacation, I left for San Francisco to endure my second open heart surgery.
At age 17, I relied on my friends for most of my emotional support through this terrifying experience. When you’re young, you just expect your family to always be there – I didn’t recognize or even understand the value in the unwavering support I received from my parents and brother. I still remember the first thing I wrote on the hand-held white board when I had the breathing tube in — “Sarah?” She was my rock, and I was worried about her.
My mortality was, and is, loud and proud, and someone who has experienced as much loss as Sarah would have every right to be scared of me. I wanted to prove to her that it doesn’t always have to end badly.
She ran. Plain and simple. Both physically and emotionally. She didn’t uphold her promises to visit me in the hospital – despite traveling to San Francisco, and she stayed after I was discharged to enjoy a vacation with her boyfriend.
I finally saw Sarah two days after returning home, and there weren’t enough empathetic excuses for her behavior that night for me not to defensively push her away in anger.
I UNLOADED on Sarah. I exposed all the terror, all the angst, and all the pain I had encountered in those five days of my hospitalization. I was in a deep depression. I was feeling hopeless about life and looked to Sarah for inspiration. She was terrified that she had lost her optimistic and bubbly friend, and told me, “You’ve changed. I don’t know who you are.” She has a look of disgust on her face that I’ll never forget. I was hurting and she delivered the final blow.
We flew apart from each other — she towards her boyfriend, and me towards my devoted friend Margie, who rescued me from myself during that time.
I broke our plans of moving in together and applied to a different college. I was looking out for myself first and foremost — an important lesson I’m now grateful to have learned.
Sarah soon realized she had lost me. She began seeking forgiveness not only with me, but with my parents as well. There were months of letters in the mail, notes on my car, and humble professions of regret — Sarah is a great apologizer.
I was hesitant at first, but hurt breeds anger, and anger is suffocating.
I can’t even remember when we really reconciled, but I know it took time, as all forgiveness does.
Time allows life to provide you with the opportunities to test your newfound trust. I was guarded with Sarah for many years. Even when we later lived together, I tried not to rely on her too much for my deepest emotional needs.
It wasn’t until my emergency appendectomy in 2001 that my walls began to tumble down. The first medical issue since my open heart surgery the appendectomy provided Sarah the opportunity to prove that she won’t run. Her concern was evident, and she was one of my core care giving team members.
This was the same emergency appendectomy that I fell in love with my husband over — who knew an appendectomy could be such a pivotal life experience?
Today, Sarah is one of my most solid rocks. Truly. Deeply.
As my heart got sicker after my pregnancy, she became more and more of my physical, emotional and spiritual partner. The past few months have been very difficult for me due to frequent medication adjustments — Sarah planned her life around my medication schedule. She was there, without me even asking, just in case I may need help. She helped me find the humor in my low points, and celebrated even my most minor of victories. She did everything right.
We’ve moved so far beyond our past issues that it seems strange to even discuss them. They’re an integral part of what makes our relationship so strong today – yet it seems like it never even happened.
Forgiveness is about reinventing your relationship. Sometimes that means you reinvent yourself away from that person, but sometimes, when it’s meant to be, you rediscover each other and lift one another up to a higher state of being.
Forgiveness involves letting go of the past, empathetically searching for the truth, and finding grace in the strength that is derived from the wounds.