In order to understand how forgiveness saved me, you must understand the last four years of my life. Why I fell down a long dark hole and had to forgive before I could start the climb to freedom.
For days I’d felt stressed out and sick. The company I worked for was beginning another round of layoffs, another 300 people, at least one from each department. Just before Thanksgiving they’d laid off over 1000 people. Office chatter inevitably turned to who would make it through the cuts and who wouldn’t. I began avoiding the coffee station. One of the managers in my department had been actively looking to find anything bad about me, from any source and by any means, that he could. It didn’t matter if it was true either. Despite being a hard worker and good at my job, I keenly felt the target on my back.
Monday morning during our weekly department meeting the plant manager stared me down as he walked past our meeting area. My stomach-ache grew worse. A headache began pounding against my eyes.
Two hours later I was carrying a box of my personal possessions out to my car. That was the moment life changed—only I didn’t realize it yet.
Four months earlier my mom had been in the emergency room and now needed full-time care. The pain medicine she was taking left her sick and unable to care for her needs herself. My first thought was that I could take a leave of absence to care for her. My employer suggested splitting my time instead. I agreed and began working at home in the morning and going to the office in the afternoon. My dad worked in the morning and took care of my mom in the afternoon.
Fast forward back to that morning when I sat across the table from the plant manager and the HR woman. One of the reasons they gave for letting me go was not being at work in the mornings. My mind exploded. He knew why I’d been away from the office and that I was working at home! He’d been the one to suggest it!
Once my professionally written cover letter and resume were ready I began my job search. I received several inquiries, but nothing developed. I was positive I’d find something good soon.
My mom was doing better. The doctors replaced the medicine that sent her to the emergency room three times and almost killed her with something she could handle better, but she still needed help. Life was beginning to look up. Then the phone rang and life changed again. My sister needed us to care for her young daughter while she found a job and a place to live.
Two days later, Mom and I drove fourteen hours to pick my niece up. The next day the three of us started back home. Because my mom couldn’t take care of my young niece I had to abort my job search. Trying to rationalize the situation I now found myself in I said, “I guess the timing is good since I’m not working anyway. I’m glad I can take care of my family.”
As the weeks went by my emotions began to change. Festering in my mind was a growing anger and resentment. The smidgen of money I had in savings paid for picking my niece up and taking care of her, and as a loan to my sister. What I thought would get me through the year might not last me through summer. And yet, I was still happy I could care for my family. Confusion replaced peace in my mind.
A friend of mine was also out of work. We spent some of our free time fishing; literally hoping to catch dinner. We’d always liked each other but had never been single at the same time; we decided to give a relationship a chance. Through the summer he and I spent a lot of time together. It went well at first. But as time went by my depression grew worse.
My niece stayed with us for three months. After she left I resumed looking for work and continued taking my mom to all her appointments. My new job search resulted in no inquiries and a couple of emails telling me they were looking for someone with more education. All the positions I used to qualify for now required more education than my associates degree gave me. Out of desperation, I began applying at retail stores and fast food restaurants. Ironically I didn’t get anywhere with that because I did have a degree.
The seeds of unhappiness, bitterness, anger, and resentment were growing and spreading through my heart. My attitude reflected this. Depression was sucking me into its black hole.
I drank a lot more than is normal for me. Sometimes the buzz helped me relax, but often it just made me feel emptier. Empty hurts.
I spent time with my friends playing dodgeball and kickball in a local sports league. I enjoyed spending time with them but could never afford to go to concerts or out to dinner or to movies with them. In the end, it just spotlighted the differences between the gainfully employed and the pathetically unemployed. Despite my friends never doing anything that made me feel bad, I felt like a loser. I lost sight of the fact that my mom still needed help.
Bitterness was my constant companion. I openly admitted being bitter about how the company had treated me. I talked about it constantly to anyone who would listen. Anger grew into full-blown hatred of the people I blamed for being laid off. The unfairness of it all gnawed deep inside.
During all of this I tried to place a smile on my face and portray a happy person; I was anything but. Probably, my friends saw through the façade but didn’t say anything to my face. As autumn approached my money was gone. There was still nothing encouraging on the job front. My dad had been on the road most of the year for work. Taking care of the house and my mom had fallen solely on me.
Sitting in my boyfriend’s house I lost hope. We’d played video games and watched a movie, but life seemed as unreal as our evenings entertainment, it was so pointless. That realization was me hitting bottom. There wasn’t a loud boom, nothing dramatic, I just went home and cut myself off from everyone. In the darkness of my depression, I didn’t even tell my boyfriend it was over. I’m embarrassed to admit that I just let him figure it out. Nothing, NOTHING mattered anymore! I knew something was wrong but couldn’t figure it out or express it.
Flipping through channels one morning I stumbled on a Joyce Meyer Enjoying Everyday Life TV show. I paused, unsure why, then moved on. In five minutes, I was back. I listened to her talk about having an unforgiving spirit and how not forgiving those who hurt you can affect you physically and emotionally. It was like she was talking to me! She covered everything I was feeling and hadn’t been able to name. I couldn’t move on from being laid off because I’d built that moment up in my mind to the point that it was impossible to move forward. The emotions I experienced during the few days immediately before and after being laid off had trapped me in their grip.
Nine months after that fateful day I had a name for what I was feeling. That didn’t stop me from feeling dark, small and far away. I’d fallen in a deep hole. The thought that I might never climb out terrified me. Sitting on the couch that morning I decided I owed it to myself to try.
9 Signs You Have an Unforgiving Attitude
- Anger or Hatred
- Thoughts of Revenge
- You dwell on a specific incident
- You complain and talk incessantly about the incident
Why should you forgive the person or perhaps something larger like a company who hurt you? That person who changed your life in a moment; without caring, without warning, without even noticing the damage they did. Do you feel like they’d somehow be getting off the hook if you forgave them? Do you self-righteously say they deserve your anger and more? I know I did. Each of those signs was a part of my daily life.
Holding on to anger and resentment and hurt is physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. And how it takes an enormous amount of energy to keep up those feelings which weaken us, making it harder to face life’s ups and downs. These toxic emotions eat into us leaving no place for happiness. They heap baggage and burdens on our shoulders until we collapse.
Change is never easy—even when you want to change. A week later I dragged out my guitar and forced myself to play for thirty minutes a day. Yes, I used the word forced. I used to enjoy playing my guitar even though I am not good at it, but now I had to force myself to do something I used to gain pleasure from. Besides taking care of my mom, I didn’t care if playing my guitar was all I accomplished that day. I just had to play. I was searching for a seed of happiness.
Two weeks later I looked forward to the time I spent playing my guitar for myself and my cat, Tyler. He listened so attentively that I could’ve believed I was the best guitarist in the world. The happiness I felt was new, exciting, and made me hope for a better day. I bravely decided to add another item to my list of things to do each day that brought me joy. Something else to care about.
Four weeks went by and I’d changed; I could experience small moments of pleasure. I still had a long way to go. I hadn’t addressed my need to forgive those responsible for my pain. I didn’t want to forgive them.
Never forget the three powerful resources you always have available to you: love, prayer, and forgiveness. — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
I began to journal what I was feeling. As I read through the entries I realized I was bitter, angry, resentful, and jealous of those who’d kept their jobs. Because of these intense feelings I had alienated myself from almost my entire support system. I had to take the next step so I could heal.
How To Forgive
- Actively choose to forgive the person who hurt you.
- Acknowledge the control these feelings have over your life and how it’s affected you and those close to you. Let go, give up and release the feelings of anger, resentment, hatred, and hurt that have plagued you. Stop dwelling on that moment. This journey could be short or long. For me, it took a long time. Many days I had to remind myself that I was no longer going to give the power over my mental, physical, and emotional well-being to the person who hurt me.
- If God is a part of your life, pray. Ask Him to help you replace the hurt and angry feelings with positive ones. Ask Him to heal your heart and mind from the damage that anger, resentment, and bitterness caused as they ate deep into your soul. He is willing and able to help you through this process. I know prayer helped me.
- Tell those closest to you of your decision to forgive. Ask for their encouragement, patience, and love. Ask them to not to talk about the incident and not to allow you to discuss it with them. Instead, look toward the future. This is also a good time to apologize and to ask for forgiveness.
- Stop talking about it. As you heal you will have openings to fill. Staying that angry and bitter over a long time requires a lot of your energy to bolster your emotions. You can now fill that time with activities that bring joy, peace, laughter, and love into your life.
It’s doubtful there will be an immediate change, but each day that you release the power of the negative thoughts there will be more room for the positive. Soon the positive will build up and push back the dark looming storm clouds.
As I walked through my journey of forgiveness I asked others to forgive my bad behavior; especially my mom and my ex-boyfriend. I had to forgive myself for allowing that moment to define my life for almost a year and give myself permission to move forward to whatever was next.
Holding on to anger, resentment and hurt only gives you tense muscles, a headache and a sore jaw from clenching your teeth. Forgiveness gives you back the laughter and the lightness in your life. — Joan London
When I drove my dad to work I had to pass the place where I used to work; there wasn’t another route or I would have taken it. It took eighteen months from the day I was laid off to the time I could take my dad to work, drive past my old workplace and not feel my emotions churn and spiral around that gaping black hole. Eventually I could drive by, stay calm, and accept that life had changed.
How My Life Has Changed Since I Forgave
I still take care of my mom. My dad is now retired and has taken over the lawn mowing and snow shoveling duties. I’m a few months from publishing my first book. Which I wouldn’t have written if I hadn’t been laid off and forgiven the people who hurt me and turned my world upside down. I can’t imagine where I might have ended up if I hadn’t decided to forgive, to move past that polarizing moment. Forgiving them gave me a chance to become happy, to improve myself, and to find new ways to earn an income. Forgiveness saved me.
While I was working on this post I found myself reliving many of the emotions that dragged me down, even though it’s been over four years since I was laid off. But because I forgave and moved on I was able to tell the emotions that they weren’t allowed to take up space in my mind, heart, and soul. I hope that by sharing this story someone else can take a step toward a happier future.
Has forgiving someone changed your life? Let me know if you’ve forgiven someone and how it helped or didn’t help you. I’d love to hear from you.