A thousand and one books will tell you that forgiveness is an important part of healing. Yes, that big “F” word that tends to rub us the wrong way because it translates into our brains as some impossible mission that only the Super Holy can manage a full 100%. Sure, even the worst of us can “forgive and forget” to the degree that our consciences are relieved and we are able to sigh with relief that we no longer boil over with rage when we bump into our brother, Berating Bob. We hope, anyway, that by confessing our unforgiveness to our creator, that it will be good enough. After all, our religion tells us that this is the way to be freed from our hatred towards others.
But here’s the thing. Unforgiveness tends to have far-reaching tentacles that wrap themselves around our neurons and every square inch of our physical and spiritual being. No, this one doesn’t stay in the brain. It reaches its feelers far and wide and sucks the life out of every vulnerable part of our being, especially our hearts.
At first, our bodies are reticent to cry out against the intrusion. Eventually, though, if unforgiveness isn’t released from our body and spirit, then the body, through the use of symptoms, begins to clamor that all is not well in the world of otherly love.
While you may no longer harbor conscious rage towards your loved ones-or even towards God-if you find yourself uneasy in the presence of the one who denied you help for your Lyme disease when you most needed it; if you can’t look Berating Bob in the eye because he makes you uncomfortable; if you have recurring thoughts of, “It’s her fault that I’m sick…” then perhaps the tentacles of unforgiveness are yet draped around your tender heart muscles and…dare I say, hindering your recovery from chronic illness.
I think anger-no, rage-is a fairly common emotion amongst Lyme disease sufferers, and understandably so. We have a million darned good reasons to be “ticked off” at the world for the difficulties that Lyme has caused us. Between family members and physicians who refuse to help us, to the bugs that make a mess of our happiness-promoting neurotransmitters, and the hours and hours we waste in bed leading a life of nothingness, it is no wonder that anger is in no short order amongst the best of us.
Fully forgiving who or what caused or contributed to our sickness in the first place may be a valuable step towards recovery, but it’s the “fully” part that often eludes us because it’s difficult to attain, or because we deny that something is still wrong in our spirits.
The Bible, the Dalai Lama and our mothers tell us to forgive. God tells us to forgive, but there’s a step in the process that many of us rush through, or omit, because it’s painful or because we fear that God is going to strike us down with a bolt of lightning if we include it in our healing. And as a result, we don’t really forgive as deeply as we should.
Sure, we’ve told God, our shrinks and our best friends about why we hurt and who hurt us. We describe in great detail the traumas of our past, but while we wait for our words of confession to free us, we leave the emotions accompanying the confessions inside, where they continue to sadden, enrage and sicken us.
Because we think it’s not really okay for us to get into God’s face and scream that we feel betrayed by Him. We fear that lightning bolt will shatter our already wounded hearts. Or we fear hating all over again the ones we have resolved to forgive. We think we aren’t really forgiving if the process involves having angry feelings towards the ones we love. But how can we expect to be released from our rage, sadness and all the sentiments that accompany unforgiveness if we simply confess the incident involving the one that trespassed over our heart, while pushing the feelings aside? Feelings don’t like to be ignored. Believe me, if the rage isn’t released in the context of forgiveness, it will clamor to be heard in other unrelated situations.
You see, we can’t just let the words out, matter-of-factly, while the emotions are left inside to grip our hearts. The two must be released together if we are to be set free, especially if the unforgiveness is the result of a long-standing betrayal or profound trauma.
Often, whether we are aware of it or not, the source of our unforgiveness begins with God. If you don’t believe in God, then perhaps yours begins with the universe, for rewarding you with a life that you never bargained for.
So go ahead, tell God that you don’t really feel loved by Him. That it seems like He abandoned you the day that the tick bit you or the day that your husband walked out on you. For too long, you have been parroting the words, “God loves me,” with the hope that, by doing so, you will one day fully believe them, while meanwhile, in your gut, you feel betrayed and unloved by the One who made you. A little voice down there is screaming, “Yeah right! If God loved you then you wouldn’t be whiling away your life in bed! If He loved you, your husband wouldn’t have abandoned you when you got sick!”
Or maybe the voice has been around longer than that. Maybe it belongs to an “older” boy or girl inside of you, that child who decided to stop praying after her alcoholic father began molesting her on her tenth birthday.
Yet, young or old, the voice is there all the same, because, although you may have cleansed your wounds with the help of counseling, prayer and attempts at total forgiveness, they have never fully healed. And life’s stressors keep tearing off the scabs, so that the pain remains.
Maybe Lyme disease is one of those stressors; maybe Lyme is part of the wound itself.
So how do you move from that place of quasi-forgiveness to total forgiveness? From being able to tolerate Berating Bob to actually loving him? From believing in your mind that God loves you to knowing it so deeply in your heart that not even Lyme disease can shake your joy, no matter that He has allowed you to spend your adult life in bed? (Assuming that you are of the sort that believes that God can, and does heal).
I don’t know, but allowing the river to rage might be a good start. Unleash the dam of your emotions and allow the sadness, the madness, the feelings of betrayal, resentment and rage to flow. Then ask God (if you believe in God) if He is really part of your anger. Don’t fear the electrical storm. He knows what’s in your gut better than you do and stuffing that rage in the name of fear, piety or false reverence will block your healing as it blocks your ability to fully know Him and to embrace His love.
Don’t be afraid of momentarily hating those whom you have resolved to love, because if you are uneasy in their presence then it means you haven’t fully loved them anyway and you will never do so until you acknowledge and give voice to the truth of how you felt at the moment when your heart was torn to shreds because of something they said or did.
Also, know that one tear-filled rage session with your face in the floor may not cut it. If your unforgiveness is the result of a long-standing or prolonged betrayal, then don’t expect that two hours with God can heal twenty years of abuse. You may need to make that floor your companion for months, or even years, until the last vestiges of rage are released into His loving hands.
Releasing our deepest emotions to God, along with a confession of why we feel betrayed, I believe is more effective than simply making a confession while minimizing or forsaking the rage. Why? Because, (in my humble opinion!) God is our great healer and our greatest companion, and I believe He wants to heal us from the roiling, boiling emotions that we have denied and buried for so long, and the only way He can do that is if we release them to Him. And because he can handle our emotions like no other.
Also, as I mentioned, for many of us, our rage starts with God and, paradoxically, the only way we can truly know, love and be in true relationship with Him is if we are honest with Him about what we carry inside. Yes, I think that revering our creator is important, but you can’t honestly revere a being that you secretly resent in some small, dark space inside of you. I believe that God would prefer that we be truthful and temporarily hateful towards Him, if it means that down the road, we will love Him more deeply.
We can get in His face and rant at Him because He loves us unconditionally. And when we are finished, we can ask His forgiveness, knowing it will be given to us. The force of our pain may be too great for others to handle, but (I believe) that God can handle all things. And I believe He is willing to do it, for the sake of our health and our relationship with Him.