By Greg Griffin New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once famously said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Anyone who has been through a divorce knows that’s not true when it comes to divorce. It’s never over even after it’s over, no matter how much we might want it to be over, especially if you have kids.
The pain is always there, maybe not ruling your day, but always lurking in the background, ambushing you from time to time, even if you may have moved on to a new relationship or the next marriage. I have a good friend who told me about attending the wedding of his daughter some 10 years after his divorce. Even though he and his ex-wife had both remarried, he said the weekend was a ticking time bomb (that thankfully didn’t go off). The stress finally got the best of him when he broke down and cried as he dropped off his son at the airport when the weekend was over. The divorce was long “over,” but the latent pain that resurfaced was not.
As unique as each personal family story is, there are some common threads that cause many broken people and families to unwittingly carry on and even heighten the pain. Yeah, you read that correctly. I mean, who would hang onto the pain on purpose, right? Many people do, however, unknowingly hang onto the pain. And in order to stop prolonging or escalating the pain of divorce after it’s over, I believe it calls for the use of the “F” word. No not the one you may be thinking of- I mean the new “F” word – forgiveness.
If the mere mention of that word causes your blood pressure to rise, perhaps you’re a good candidate to consider the encouragement of this blog. You may be thinking, “Me forgive?!! My ex is the one who needs to hear that message, after what s/he did to me and the kids!!” I get that. I really do. Those kinds of thoughts were constantly on my mind and even in my dreams at night as I was going through those incredibly raw, painful days after my wife told me she was done and wanted out of our marriage. Forgiveness was the last thing on my “to do” list.
As time passed and I found solid counsel from caring and mature friends, I got to a place where I was willing to consider where I had fallen short in our marriage. Where I had hurt her. That consideration was the beginning of something huge for me. You see, it’s hard to continue to burn with anger against someone who hurt you when you can say to yourself and others that you hurt that person too. Rarely is a broken marriage all on one person. (That statement might make your pressure rise, too. Of course, in the cases involving abuse, addiction and the like, perhaps it is all or almost all on one person, and there is certainly no “cause” for domestic abuse.)
In most cases, however, the first step to getting rid of the anger and hurt that you carry for that other person is to consider how you are the offender in that relationship. If you can swallow your pride and admit your faults that contributed to the brokenness, your heart will begin to change for the better. That step may take most of your energy and time. I can promise though, that what is on the other side is rich and freeing. Once you and I accept and admit that we are imperfect and could have done better at some things, our hearts reach a new place, a place that leads to a journey of healing and a letting go of that other person.
Forgiveness is hard work, make no mistake. And it’s not a one time thing and then a done deal either. Nor is forgiveness a feeling. It is a choice, one that you may have to make over and over and over, even within the span of one day. Yes, you are doing it right if you tell yourself, “I am choosing to forgive because I am not perfect either” long before you feel like saying it.
Here’s the really good part. It is a choice that releases you. It releases you from a lot of the pain that burdens you. You may be thinking that other person doesn’t deserve to be “let off the hook.” That may be true. But justice can be pursued without anger. And forgiving your ex-spouse isn’t for their benefit anyway- it’s for yours, and your kids, and your family. Forgiveness is for your heart. It’s for your legacy with your kids, and their future families. Your willingness to forgive will teach an incredible lesson to your children that will serve them well in their own lives. Whenever some new hurt comes up and I don’t want forgive, just the thought of how my sons are watching is often all I need to make the conscious choice to forgive once more.
A words of clarification — forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. That’s nearly impossible, anyway. And forgiveness doesn’t mean backing down from your values. Marriage is incredibly valuable, and in my eyes, even sacred. Forgiving an ex-spouse for their faults (and forgiving yourself of yours) doesn’t mean that “it’s okay to divorce, we’ll all be fine, let’s move on here, there’s nothing to see.” Divorce is a BIG deal.
Divorce will always have painful ripples that come your way from time to time. You and I don’t need to make it any harder than it already is. If we are willing to choose and practice forgiveness, we will be healthier on all levels — emotionally spiritually, and even physically because forgiveness is worth it. Each and every time.