It’s the little things I remember most.
The screams when my mother made the wrong kind of spaghetti. The roar of the rain against the windshield as we went too fast on a winding road. The cold burn on my skin the day he punched me in the face with a ball of ice. The expansive hope that someone would come and save me followed by the utter deflation when I realized no one ever would.
I asked myself so many times how peace could ever be possible in such a reality. It felt impossible to forgive. Yet, I have found peace in forgiving the man who abused my family for over a decade.
It wasn’t, and still isn’t, an easy process. I needed Jesus Christ every step of the way. In the face of great injustice and atrocity, forgiveness can seem fruitless. It may not even seem worth it. I’ve experienced all of these feelings. I know what it’s like to stare into a face free of any remorse, to bear the consequences of another’s actions year after year, to feel like a very part of your eternal soul has been stolen and destroyed.
Still, I know forgiveness is possible and, for me, forgiveness is one of the best choices I ever made. It provided me with a foundation for healing and hope. I wanted to share just a few of the ways forgiving my abuser has brought me peace. I hope something in it can help you find peace as well.
Forgiveness satisfied my need for justice.
It’s surprising to say, but I didn’t think much of justice as the abuse happened. I didn’t thirst for retribution when his vodka-laden breath told me I was worthless. I didn’t even want it when he hit me. I was too busy longing for freedom.
It was when freedom came and I realized I was still in shackles and chains that the great tragedy of my abuse really settled in. I was free. I wasn’t being abused anymore. My abuser even passed away. But when the dust settled, the damage was done. I hated myself. I never trusted anyone who said they loved me. I drove myself to exhaustion trying to prove my worthiness. Men terrified me. The thought of asking for a priesthood blessing still gives me panic attacks.
Therein was my greatest loss. I mourned the person I felt I was supposed to be. I mourned the person I felt I couldn’t be. I mourned the love I couldn’t accept or give. I mourned the chances I didn’t take, the risks I couldn’t bear. I mourned myself.
And how I wanted justice for that girl!
Forgiveness satisfied my need for justice. How? It allowed me to turn over the weight of judgment to God. I believe in a God that is perfectly just. I also believe there are very serious and real consequences for my abuser. By forgiving my abuser, the burden of trying to enact justice was taken off my shoulders; the decision on how to judge my abuser was given to God. He is the one who will exact what is necessary, as the one who knows each heart, each motivation, and forgiveness was a way I could show God I trusted in that.
Forgiveness freed my mind of torment.
One of the worst prisons is the prison of the mind. My mind was swallowed up in fear and torment due to my abuse. During the period of time when I was being abused, there was the terror of taking the slightest misstep. Every bit of the mind focuses on how to keep the monster, to keep yourself safe.
For me, this extended into what should have been healthy relationships and situations. I developed serious social anxiety. I couldn’t trust anyone. It took hours to fall asleep each night. Every situation was scrutinized. Was I good enough? What could I have done better? How can I make sure I am never critiqued or criticized like that again?
What will my future be like? Do I even have a future?
Forgiveness was, and continues to be, a soothing voice. It reminds me that God is in charge. It tells me to leave the past in the past as best as I can and focus on what I have control over. Forgiving my abuser gave me permission to let that period of my life go and heal. With a quieter mind and heart, there was more to see. I could see the tender mercies in my life, I could see God’s promises, and I could see my own emotional distress in an eternal perspective. All have allowed me to move forward.
Forgiveness cleansed my heart of hatred…
To be full of hate is terrifying. Or at least, it has been for me. The gentle sweetness of peace couldn’t exist where a raging fire burned. The hatred consumes everything. And you know what? It can feel really good for a time. It can provide us purpose and energy. It seems to keep us alive.
The fire, when it finally dies, however, leaves nothing but barren, scorched earth. Forgiving was like a cool rain, cleansing my heart and providing a fertile soil for hope and peace to grow. My memories, while sometimes causing sparks, don’t reignite the fire. I don’t hate my abuser, but I hate giving him another second of my life.
…and opened it to the pure love of Christ.
I love my abuser. There are many people in my life who wish I wouldn’t say such things. Yet, forgiveness has allowed me to look upon my abuser with a heart filled with charity. It isn’t a weak sort of love. It is a strength. I can recognize the ways in which my abuser tried to overcome his demons and extend mercy upon those memories. I can remember moments of love, free of addiction, that was genuinely offered. I could see what glimpses of eternal potential remained in him.
Oh, how hard this was! I have a feeling this type of forgiveness is going to be a lifelong process. However, I consider it one of the greatest blessings of my life that God would help give me a heart that has found a way to do it, baby step by baby step. I don’t want to have my worth wrapped up in the pain I hold onto. I don’t want to fuel my life on bitterness and vindictiveness. I don’t want to give another moment of my life to my abuser. I want to be loved. I want to love. More than anything else, I want to love as God loves.
That love has set me free. And in that freedom, I’ve found peace.
To learn more about finding peace through forgiveness, visit this special page on mormon.org.