Healing requires far more of us than just the participation of our intellectual and even our emotional resources. And it certainly demands that we do more than look backwards at the dead-end archives of our past. Healing is, by definition, taking a process of disintegration of life and transforming into a process of return to life.” -Caroline Myss
The holidays present a feast of opportunity to listen to the wisdom in your broken relationships. Most everyone shares these, whether they be wounds from a recent divorce, a sibling or parent relationship that remains sharp with bitterness, or a persistent disconnect with your partner, which the holiday season only serves to magnify. Old hurts seem to more easily resurface in the twinkling lights of what should feel loving and we frequently walk away from our holiday exchanges feeling more alone and less connected than ever. Even the empty space of silence that lives in the broken spaces between you and the people you once loved seem to expand at this time of year.
It is no different for me. My sister will not answer my phone calls and has told me by text that she doesn’t believe in reconciliation. My children have not seen their grandparents in so many years they wouldn’t recognize them. I struggle with the truth of these broken relationships year round, but most acutely at the holidays. Who doesn’t want to believe in the season’s primary fable of rebirth and transformation through love? I venture to guess that most of us would give up any other gift under the tree in exchange for an experience of forgiveness that has the power to heal the brokenness that accumulates in our loving relationships.
For years I worked to reach out and heal these relationships only to have my original wounds inflamed by the refusal of the other people to participate or even be willing to acknowledge what was broken between us. It took me years to realize that much as I tried to create a reciprocal experience of healing and re-connecting, my efforts were misguided. Like many of us, I believed that forgiveness, like love, was only legitimate in its reciprocity. What I have come to learn is that the truth of forgiveness, love’s action verb, is that it is first and foremost an internal process of self healing. The more that we encourage its growth inside of us, the more that it extends gradually to the broken relationships that we leave in our wake.
Catherine the Great once said, “The more a man knows, the more he forgives.” For real love to exist in our lives, the only solution to lives full of our collective imperfections is forgiveness. It requires both deep courage and a profound respect for what is out of our control. To grow the seed of forgiveness in us, we have to be willing to let go, both of what is past and, more challenging still, what can happen in the future.
Forgiveness is the daily practice of learning to love ourselves, and our ability to relate just as we are. It is in noticing the brief moments of grace, when we get it right. It is in learning to focus our attention on our own capacity for goodness. These practices actually free us from the longing for a better past, as well as replacing our fantasies that we can alter how someone will relate to us in the future with what is good enough right here and now. Finding the true source of forgiveness within, even only a drop of it is the beginning of healing our broken relationships out there.