Updated: Feb 12, 2022
I spent 23 years on an empty battlefield. Ammo loaded, gun cocked, waiting patiently and obsessively for my enemy to arrive on the top of the ridge. Winter after winter came, still no foe in sight. Bones chilled, fingers frozen to my weapon—standing my ground. Sure that when they arrived, I would be ready to take the first shot.
Then something miraculous happened. The 23rd spring came. As my icy fingertips thawed and the sun warmed my aching limbs, I noticed a tiny puddle at my feet. In it, I saw my reflection—this tattered, weathered, beaten down woman no longer looked like the girl I remembered. As I stared at her sharp browed eyes and passioned scowl it all made sense. The enemy, it turns out, was me.
For who held me to that ground? Who left my body and mind for dead on a battlefield for 23 years? Who wasted energy standing and carrying a rifle filled with resentment through long winters and sweltering summers? Who cried out in angst? Who watched the colors change on the leaves and counted down to a day of reckoning that would never come? It was me. It was always me.
My revenge, my unforgiving heart, my constant desire to show my enemy just how badly they had hurt me—it wasn’t keeping them up at night. It wasn’t holding them to a field, arms shaking and worn from the weight of their gun, their story, their anger, their pain. They weren’t the ones suffering on the battlefield. They may have spent their winters warm and inside. Cozied up, perhaps with a good book and a crackling fire. The only one suffering from my insufferable grudge was me.
Want to know a secret? Nobody is thinking about you as much as you think they are and the reason is simple. They are thinking mostly about themselves, just like you are. When you dwell on a grudge, you aren’t thinking about the person who wronged you, you are thinking about yourself.
You feel hurt, you are angry, you want an apology, you, you, you. Why then, does it become someone else’s responsibility to fulfill your needs? The truth is that nobody will take care of you, but you. I know that sounds harsh, but it is liberating.
Imagine if we honestly had to rely on other people for own happiness and contentment. That would mean we held equal responsibility for other people’s joy and satisfaction. I don’t know about you, but that feels like a tall order that I’m glad I don’t have to fill. It can be hard enough to fulfill my own needs, and I am me. I cannot even begin to imagine what it would look like if I had to play the guessing game with other’s emotional needs too.
The most significant part of this whole I’m-the-boss-of-me thing is that you get to decide how you want to live. You are in the driver seat here, nobody else. So, why let yourself live in a way that doesn’t bring you joy? Why hold on to expectations when you can create a life of abundance?
If you take anything from my experience, I hope it’s this: Forgiveness is the most remarkable, already-built-inside-of-you gift you can give yourself. It already exists. You have to reach in and pull it out.
My twenty-three-year stint on the battlefield was an elaborate wait for a grand gesture from my biological father that he will never be able to grant me. Learning that forgiveness was never his to earn but rather, mine to give, has profoundly changed me.
I’m finally free. Free from expectation, from the pain of my past, from the weight of my rifle and my stiff body on an empty field. Free to forgive, to love, to live.
I won’t lie to you and say it’s easy. At least, not at first. I was a bit like a child learning to read for a while. I fumbled when I spoke and had a hard time articulating what I was trying to say. When you forgive without the socially expected apology first, there is a learning curve. Most of us have grown up hearing that people need to earn our love and that can be a difficult thing to unlearn. However, I promise the work is worth the result.
One spring day you’ll step outside from the warmth of your home and see a puddle from the thawed out snow. You’ll look in its face and spot your reflection—this bright-eyed, wide-smiling woman—and you’ll be filled with joy as you whisper, “It was me. It was always me.”