41. The Path to Wholeness

41. The Path to Wholeness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The Path to Wholeness

We may not know how to forgive, and we may not want to forgive; but the very fact we say we are willing to forgive begins the healing practice.

~Louise Hay

I wanted revenge. I needed vindication. While the real estate agents at work hurried around me to meet clients and show houses I daydreamed about ramming my car into the front steps of the house where my husband and his male lover lived. I wanted to show how angry I was. For a couple of months, I fought the urge to call and scream at him. Resentment was clinging to me like a leech.

Then one night I woke around 3 a.m., shaking in the darkness. Beads of perspiration formed on my forehead and my heart raced as I sat up in bed. I took short, forced breaths and braced myself, palms down on the mattress. It took a moment for my mind to be clear enough to recall the dream I’d just had. I shuddered as the images replayed in my mind.

In my dream, I’d walked through our home looking into every room. I peered around door jams, walked into the bedrooms, climbed up and down the stairs repeatedly. Slowly, I made my way around, trying to find my husband. I was frustrated. Where was he hiding? Why couldn’t I find him?

As I remembered the dream, my heart raced faster. Scenes flashed before me and I winced as I saw myself clutching the handle of a large silver knife. I was hunting my husband to kill him. My fury had grown to the point of wanting to murder the man who had deserted my children and me and had hurt us so deeply. The dream frightened me enough that I called my counselor the next morning and made an appointment.

“I’m capable of murder!” I cried, as I sat in the armchair in her office and shared the dream with her.

“You’re capable of dreaming about murder,” she replied.

“But I wanted to kill him!” I said. “And I don’t know what to do with what I’m feeling.”

“What are you feeling?”

I hesitated and stuttered as I attempted to speak.

“I h-hate him.” I paused at the sound of my voice uttering those words. They sent chills down my spine as I continued. “I’m not supposed to hate.”

In her usual calm, unruffled, and reassuring tone, she said, “Don’t you think God knows how you feel, Annalee? Confess it to Him and ask for help so you can come to forgiveness.”

“I don’t know how to get to forgiveness,” I said. “But I don’t want hatred in my heart either. I don’t like how this feels!”

“Are you willing to forgive?” my counselor asked.

“I don’t know. Not yet.”

“Let me ask you this. Are you willing to be willing to forgive?”

I put my head down and thought for a moment. I could handle that much.

“Yes, I’m willing to be willing.”

“Then give your anger to God,” she said.

“But how do I give up the anger I feel? I have a right to be angry.”

“Yes,” my counselor replied. “You have a right to be angry, but do you want the consequences of allowing it to consume you? Perhaps if you give up the anger, there’ll be nothing left of the relationship. Could that be why you’re holding onto it?”

Tears flowed as I reached for a tissue on the end table next to my chair. I looked up at her and knew she’d touched on something deep in my heart. I wasn’t willing to give up what I felt because it was all I had left of the marriage. If I let go of the anger and resentment, there would be nothing left. And I needed something to keep me connected, even if it was a life-controlling negative emotion. I had spent twenty years being one with my husband. Part of my identity was being his wife. Who would I be if he were no longer in my life?

I went home and lay face down on the living room floor. Confessing my hatred and lack of forgiveness, I asked God to remove it from my heart and help me to forgive.

I sobbed. I groaned. I felt like I was wrestling with an unseen demon. The muscles in my arms and legs ached as if I’d been running up hill while carrying a cinder block.

I waited for a few minutes before getting up. I expected an immediate feeling of relief but it didn’t come. However, in the days that followed, as I continued to repeat that mind and heart commitment to forgive, the anger and bitterness diminished.

It took a few months, but eventually, the feeling of forgiveness came. I was free from the burden of anger that had felt like a rock tied around my neck for so long. I accepted the reality that there was no longer anything to connect me to my husband—and it was okay.

Before long, I understood that forgiveness wasn’t for my husband, but for me. It freed me to become all that I could be and to go on in spite of the pain and uncertainty I faced each day. As I let go of the past, the future unfolded before me, surprising me at every turn. I flourished. I went back to college after twenty-three years and finished my bachelor’s degree. After a short break, I went on to complete a Master of Divinity degree at seminary on a full scholarship, became ordained and entered church ministry.

Now, when I counsel others who are going through circumstances where they feel they can’t forgive, I share my own experience with them. Letting go of unforgiveness and bitterness may feel like death to our souls because it’s all we have left to hold onto in a relationship. But when we find the courage to take the higher road and forgive, we free ourselves to nourish bigger and fuller souls that can guide others to the place of wholeness that we’ve found.

~Annalee Davis

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