When I was visiting my parents a few weeks ago, my mom asked me if I had ever had something happen to me for which I needed to forgive (or struggled to forgive) in light of my sharing with her about Eva’s story of Auschwitz and forgiveness. At the time, I had thought about it, and said no, not really, and she shared with me some of her personal struggles with forgiveness (which I really appreciated). I continued to think about this question, and I had an epiphany this morning in the shower (for some reason, ideas come to me in while in the shower…I guess that time is good for something!) While my experience and struggle to find forgiveness is nothing like Auschwitz, it is something worth sharing, at least for my own benefit. We all have our stories to share, after all.
The experience that came to mind was when I was in college, and I decided to rush in order to join a sorority my sophomore year (the “normal” rush time at my college was freshman year). I went through all of the usual things that girls going through rush went through, and by the end of it, none of the sororities asked me to join. I was heartbroken. I was even more heartbroken when I learned through a friend that some of the girls from the sorority I really wanted to join voted against me when my name came up. I never confronted them about it, I never mentioned it, but I always wondered why someone, who I thought was a friend, would do something like that. I also wondered what was wrong with me that I could be “rejected” by multiple groups of women. I felt betrayed, excluded, not belonging anywhere. At the heart of life, there is this need to belong- to have a home, a family, a group of friends where we feel comfortable, welcomed, accepted. I already had a great group of friends at college, but the issue still remained- what was it about me that made them all say no? What was wrong with THEM that they turned me away?
I beat myself up over this for a number of years. In fact, my remaining years of college were a little uprooted by the whole experience. Everywhere I went, I felt that some of the sorority women (and there were a TON of them) were pointing and laughing, and saying, “No one wanted her in their house.” My self-esteem plummeted. I didn’t feel worthy. I didn’t like myself.
But over time, I gained my sense of self-confidence back, found that there are many places where I do, in fact, belong, and I look back and realize that I probably wouldn’t have found my true friends just by joining a sorority. I wouldn’t have had the time I did to devote to my church, which led my into ministry, and finally, my vocation as a pastor. When I started thinking about this this morning, I realized that I suppose I’m at the point of forgiving myself for what I put myself through, but even after all this time, that rejection I experienced still hurts a little. Maybe I’m at the point where I can forgive the women who betrayed me, who rejected me, who thought that I would not fit their mold of the “XYZ” house. Life goes on. I’ve moved on. I am not the labels I wear, or self-identified by which house I belonged to, or didn’t belong to in college. At the end of the day, people really don’t care about these kinds of things…but rejection still stings, betrayal still burns, and self-esteem is always something that I (and probably many of us!) still struggle with from time to time.
But that’s the thing about forgiveness- it’s a process. We keep working at it. We keep trying to understand it. And as a person of faith, I try to strengthen my sense of self in who I am in God’s eyes. God is the ultimate forgiver, after all.
Whatever experience you have had that requires at least a thought about forgiveness, I hope you will at least explore it for yourself. You might be surprised at the feelings you encounter. Above all though, tell your story. Don’t be afraid.