Notes from a dark place: Pain, hatred and the magic of forgiveness
How learning to let go allowed me to live again by Anonymous
I seriously thought about killing him. I quickly realised I never would, but only because I wouldn’t get away with it.
How I hated going to bed. As soon as I turned out the light, every night, I was reliving those memories, and there was nowhere to hide.
Every person I passed in the street I had to check out. Is this him? No. Is this him? No.
I hated him. Violently. Bitterly. Righteously.
People say a lot of bad things about hatred. I’m sure they’re right. But they don’t tell you about its good side. How it’s armour to protect you from all the things that get thrown at you. How it’s a warm blanket against the cold wind. How it dulls the pain.
Hate the sin and love the sinner? Get real. My feelings were like the waves of the sea. You might as well tell a plastic bottle not to bob about as tell me not to hate.
And every Sunday I’d hear these words on my lips: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” And I would think: “Right now, you can keep your forgiveness if it comes on these terms. I’ll take my chances without it. I’m a pretty decent person, when you realise the world is full of worthless bastards like him.”
The world became black and white. There was a line through the middle of the human race. On one side of it, down in the darkness, was him, and the people who cared so little about right and wrong that they still treated him like a friend despite everything he’d done to me, along with anyone whose values were so sick that they talked about this kind of thing as if it didn’t much matter, or treated it like a joke.
And up here in the light, across the line, there’s me on my moral mound in my holy armour, and my friends and sympathisers, and all good people who see things as we do.
The world became grey. It felt as if everything had a sheet of dust over it. It was all drab and pointless.
They say that if you repress anger it turns into depression. That’s not my experience. I raged. I threw. I shouted. I swore. You couldn’t get less repressed without bloodshed. Depression seemed to be the natural by-product of anger. The two took it in turns, doing a job share in my soul.
My one real prayer was Psalm 23. I can’t tell you how true and beautiful and wise and nurturing I found every word. Bad valleys and big sticks. That’s how you get to the green pastures.
And I wanted to get there so badly. I wanted to feel normal again, and unbroken, and happy, and free. I wanted to be able to turn out the light without him finding him there.
But I wanted it badly. I was nowhere near good enough at wanting it. I wanted to be unbroken and to nurse my wounds. I wanted to be happy and howl with rage. I wanted to run free in my armour of righteous hate. I wanted green pastures brought to me in the valley of the shadow.
So the waves sloshed back and forth inside me. Hope… hatred. Rage… joy.
There was no moment of revelation, no sudden miracle, no burst of light. My friends, my church, my counsellor, they all did more for me than I can say. But the crucial thing, I think, is that, with their help, I gradually learned the rhythm of it, like we learn the rhythms of walking and talking.
I learned that light and dark, hatred and wholeness, take their turns in me, and you can’t have them all at once. To keep one you have to let go of another.
And so forgiveness shuffled in.
I used to think of forgiveness as the superhuman feat of self-denial that the Christian faith demands, the gift of the victim to the victor, overcoming human nature, choosing to lose rather than equalise.
Perhaps for some people it is. But for me it is choosing to be replenished, to receive back the part of me that was stolen, a gift to the victim in spite of the enemy, a triumph of human nature, choosing to win rather than live in the wreckage.
Not that I can claim to have got the hang of it. I haven’t let myself be led all the way there yet, but I’ve got close enough to see how good it looks.
Forgiveness is allowing your table to be laid in the presence of your enemies. It is allowing your head to be anointed with oil. It is emerging from the valley into green pastures.
Forgive me my sins as I forgive those who sin against me? Yes, please – with healing, delicious streams of living water that restore my soul.
Anonymous is a freelance writer and broadcaster
This article was published in the July 2013 edition of Reform.