Category Archives: forgiveness

Finding grace in tragedy

Elite Daily posts trending topics every day and emails them to contributing writers. One of the topics for today was about spiritual awareness month (something I didn’t even know existed!). I submitted this piece to my editor earlier this morning considering it’s a topic I’ve been obsessed with over the last few months. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been wrestling with how to find grace in all of the difficulties I’ve faced within the last year. Here is what I’ve come to learn so far:

A fundamental question we as humans have been trying to answer for centuries is if a God or Allah or Buddha (or whatever else you believe in) exists, then why do bad things happen? Why does suffering exist?

We cannot possibly imagine a reason for the Sandy Hook or Columbine shootings. The destruction of an entire city which left hundreds of people homeless after the Joplin tornado. The beheadings of innocent civilians by ISIS. Or the emotional and physical abuse we suffer at the hands of another.

Our first reaction to tragedies like this are shock, followed by horror that such inhumanity exists in the world. Then comes sadness and compassion for ourselves and for those whose lives are fundamentally altered, and not always for the better. But in all of these difficult situations our hearts open up wide and our desire to help grows.

We join hands with strangers to pray and hold candlelight vigils. We donate our time and energy into building houses for those who have no place to call home. We protect and harbor those who are escaping a horrible evil. But perhaps the evil that exists in this world is meant to remind us of the grace that can come from tragedy.

Difficult circumstances are the very things that shape us and teach us hope, endurance, and strength. They encourage us to stop being consumed by our own selfishness and become people who offer up compassion and love and understanding for strangers, for the world, for our family and friends, and for ourselves. Even if it is difficult to see, there are quiet moments of joy to be found. I am always in awe of our ability to join hands in the face of struggle.

It is true that the world and the people in it will find so many ways to break our hearts. At times, we will even break our own hearts. The disasters of the world, our failures, our grief, and our self-doubt – they are our worst enemies. They are the malignant tumors that eat away at our minds, our work, our creativity, and our desire to find meaning and purpose in the world.

But despite being awful and so unfair, these are the experiences that offer up a window into our souls. And the only way we can find peace and comfort is to not rush through the emotions those experiences bring us. We have to feel the hurt, the grief, the anger and despair. We find that the way of becoming closer to a higher power and of strengthening our spirituality is not to go around our journey but to endure it.

Our difficulties is what forces us to be the most honest, raw, and vulnerable versions of ourselves. Going around the grief, despair, anger, and hurt those experiences provoke inside of us is unfair to our very existence.

In moments of severe hurt, you have every right to feel it deeply and you have every right to not have your sh*t together every second of the day. But despite how unreasonable the injustices of this world are, we must embrace them. The disasters. The mistakes we make. The addictions we struggle with overcoming. The emotionally devastating heartbreaks we go through. The jobs we lose. The death of our children. It seems so difficult, especially in the moment, but it is possible.

This isn’t to suggest we should quickly release any negative emotions we feel in light of difficult circumstances. On the contrary, we should slow down a bit and be present during the process of healing. Quieting your emotions and jumping to forgiveness before you feel it in your bones will not get you past the visceral pain you feel right now – it only prolongs it. We can only hope to become closer to God – to reach clarity and meaning and purpose – by going through these emotions, not around them.

Sure, harboring such negative emotions is exhausting, but it can also be what drives us. Many people preach that to be a better Christian we must forgive but I believe that forgiveness is not always required to move forward. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason for the bad things that happen in the world or to us. We can find comfort in the Tao Te Ching which tells us that for every 10,000 sorrows there are 10,000 joys. Perhaps what the higher powers are trying to tell us is to find the courage to accept what has happened, to let go and to continue seeing the good that exists in spite of the bad.

However difficult it may seem, we must endure the ugly side of tragedy even if it brings out the most unredeeming qualities. Although we are quick to blame God or Allah or Buddha or whatever you believe in, they are always there to show us our true destiny. Our experiences may even redefine what is important to us and teach us more about what we value and what we find worth standing up for.

In all of the difficult moments we face there is always some sort of grace that can be found. We just have to look deep enough. We have to search for the light and cling to it like a totem pole so we can make our way out of the dark. Reveling in this process, despite it’s horror, will transform us and we will always come out stronger – as a community and as individuals.

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Filed under buddhism, compassion, faith, forgiveness, grace, healing, life lessons, sorrow, tragedy

Thoughts on anger

I read a line in one of my self-prescribed self-help/do-good books this weekend that made me pause. For the most part, I loved the book because it was about embracing your messy, fucked-up life but there was one chapter in particular that talked about forgiveness, saying we must always forgive because “Forgiveness helps quiet the anger.”

What gave me pause wasn’t that we should aim for forgiveness so much as it was the idea we should quiet any negative emotions we feel for fear of how others will perceive us. Anger is not meant to be quieted, it is meant to be expressed in whatever safe and healthy medium that we identify with. For me, I choose to express my anger through writing and running because both activities leave me feeling empty of hate instead of consumed by it. For others, anger is expressed through painting or even smashing plates on the sidewalk (Liz can attest to how much fun this actually is). Whatever medium you identify with, expressing your anger is far better than stifling it.

I think back to the day I found myself curled up in a ball on the hardwood floor of my parent’s bedroom sobbing and gasping for air. I kept telling myself the best thing to do was to forgive and let go. The reason I didn’t – couldn’t – do that is because I was not capable of forgiveness at that point in time. As much as I would have liked to say I forgive you and I wish you happiness and love because I have loved you so much, I just couldn’t. I still can’t. Why? Because that’s not actually how I feel. In fact, at the risk of sounding maniacal, this is what I really feel: I hope he loses all his money because he prizes stance and stature more than anyone else I know. I hope he gets divorced as quickly as he got engaged and married. I hope his new wife cheats on him and gets pregnant by someone else (because he did that to me twice and I would really love for him to know how that feels). I also really hope he ends up unhappy and alone and the sooner that happens, the better. I am not ashamed to say I feel any of this because this is HONESTLY where I’m at.

The point of sharing this is to illustrate that we can only hope to reach forgiveness by going through all of the other emotions we feel, not around them. Whether its depression, anger, hate and bitterness or just plain hurt feelings, we are so often taught to quickly release those emotions as soon as we feel them because they’re exhausting and they consume our energy. Yes, they are all of these things, but I can honestly say that quieting those emotions and jumping to forgiveness before you are ready to do so does not get you past the visceral pain you feel right now – it only prolongs it. To forgive someone before you actually feel it in your bones is not forgiveness. It is something else entirely. We must endure the ugly side of hurt even if it brings out the most un-redeeming qualities.

I believe the idea that we must always forgive (and well before we are ready to) creates an undue pressure and hardship on our hearts. I also believe it is not necessary to forgive in order to let go. It is only necessary that you first be kind to yourself and second that you love yourself more than anybody else could. The only way to do both is to honor what you feel by going through your journey, not around it. To promise to show up every single day and embrace the ugly side of hurt. To express the emotions that rise up because otherwise (like me) you spend years forcing yourself not to feel. You really only need reach acceptance in order to let go. Quieting the anger is not an option but releasing it is.

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Filed under advice, books, depression, forgiveness, insight, love, self-introspection, self-love, truth