Some time ago I wrote an essay on forgiveness where I suggested that “Forgiveness is when the hurt you’ve suffered no longer drives your decision-making, nor defines who you are.”
Believe me, I’ve returned to those words time and again. And recently I came to see that people who are stuck are often unwilling or unable to let go of the hurt they’ve suffered. They are stuck in the hurt because somehow it defines them in a way that feels, oddly enough, comfortable.
It’s the woman who will tell you, with great bitterness, how unfairly her ex-husband treated her. How he screwed her out of money. How he turned the children against her. How he cheated on her and walked away scot free. The jerk. When did this happen? you might ask, and be shocked to find out — it was 30 years ago.
It’s when your friend starts to complain once again about how intolerable her workplace is. What a psycho her boss is. How brown-nosing her office mates are. How favorites get recognized but hard work is never rewarded. How she has no energy and barely drags herself into work every day. And you’ve heard the same complaints over and over without cease for the past five years.
Being stuck — feeling powerless to change, not knowing what to do, fuzzy thinking — happens to all of us at some time or other. We have a problem and can’t seem to find a way out.
Why is that?
It’s as if staying fully engaged with the problem prevents people from having to come up with a solution. There’s a issue, poppets, when we love the story of our problem so much that we can’t bear to let it go. We’re “story fondling”, as my friend Martha Beck calls it. We love our story. We absolutely adore it. We hold it close, as if it were a tiny baby needing our tender, loving care.
But when we story fondle, we allow our problem to define us and shape our decision-making.
Which is the opposite of forgiveness.
And only prolongs the pain.
The only way forward, as you may have heard, is through. To get unstuck, once and for all, you have to stop focusing on the problem and start focusing on the solution.
You have to break up with the problem and start dating a solution. Or play the field if you want and try several solutions.
Sure, sometimes we fondle our problem in an attempt to understand it. And that’s important — understanding the pain can help us craft a solution that works. But 30 years of fondling? Excessive. That’s 30 years of living life in pain, and on hold. Which might feel safe, but is ultimately a waste.
What you’ve got, for sure, is today. Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow is not promised. Laying the problem aside and living right here, right now, focused on solutions — that’s the key to arriving at the most powerful point of forgiveness — self-forgiveness. Which is the path toward a vibrant life, worth living.