I remember Marianne Williamson once saying that when she prayed for a more spiritual life, it came . . . in a series of tests and struggles. Well, I’ve had my own ironic moment just recently. In my post last month on Forgiveness (click here to read full article), I wrote about my personal experience of forgiving someone who had hurt and betrayed me. I talked about how powerful it was to forgive, how it brought me great peace, and so I am a big believer in striving for forgiveness even in the worst of situations. After a post like this, of course, the universe had to humble me a bit.
About a week later, this person I wrote about came back into my life and in the matter of a short phone call, did an incredible emotional dump that set me back in time. I spent the first 30 minutes being shocked—I thought I was over all this. Then I spent an evening being incredibly angry. Then the next day and the next, I was overcome with anger, resentment and grief. My entire history with this person started to run through my mind, like an old movie reel that I thought had been filed away in some dusty corner and yet there it was, playing front and center.
So I did what all women do—I called one of my closest friends. She listened, she let me cry and vent, we talked about it for a long while. Then finally we were laughing at the absurdity of it all. And after the call and some more soul searching, I was able to start seeing once again the truth of this person’s life, how he has hurt and alienated so many people around him, how his actions have never been personal or about me, and finally I began to pray to get back to that place of forgiveness.
Now, I must admit, I don’t pray very much. I’m not a religious person. I don’t go to church and I don’t belong to any religious denomination. The crux of my spiritual identity, if I had to describe it, is that I feel a connection to humanity and I try to live my life according to the principles of spiritual leaders I admire (leaders like Jesus, Buddha, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela). So for me to actually pray, it means I’m really in crisis.
But pray I did, because I didn’t quite know what else to do and no way did I want to go back to that state of resentment where I had lived for so long. During that time of my life, when I was caught up in anger and resentment, it felt like a dark cloud was hanging over my head and I could not get out of the spiritual slump I had fallen into. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Whether it was my prayers or the emotional processing, I’ll never know, but the resentment this time passed quickly. Already, just a few weeks later, I feel like I’m almost back to that place of forgiveness and peace, and the charge is fading around this person and his latest slight.
I think the lesson for me is that resentment and anger are a lot like grief. These emotions come in waves and sometimes hit you when you least expect it. When you’ve first been wounded or suffered a loss, these emotions can be consuming and take a long time to recover from—many years, in my experience. Once you’ve progressed to a certain point of healing, however, they will never consume you in the same way. Grief, resentment and anger can all cycle back, but the work you’ve done to let go and move on is not lost, even if you are momentarily set back.
I’ve also learned from this experience that forgiveness is something I have to keep re-committing to. It’s an on-going process for me because the person who wounded me is still a peripheral part of my life. The reassuring lesson, however, is that I have the power to return to that state of inner peace so long as I have the willingness to forgive again and again. That’s a wonderful revelation I would not have known otherwise.