This is a very personal reflection. I have written it to and about some specific people, but I believe there are lessons to be learned and so I share it here.
When it comes to forgiveness I have to admit, I’m lousy (here is something I wrote about the process of forgiving my father). I guess one could say that I hold on to things. I would say that I hold on to them until I’m ready to let go, always intending to let go at – some – point. When it is safe?
When you have experienced an abusive home life, it is pure survival instinct to be suspicious. That lack of being able to trust has hurt me in my life, I know, but it has also protected me from other kinds of pain. Growing into Christ’s forgiveness has meant that I have to learn to trust.
When I went to work for my father in 1991 I did it for his approval. I’d never in my life felt his approval and I just wanted a context where he might ‘like’ me or what I did. Innocently at first, I stepped into a situation where others accused us of nepotism. So not only did I have the pressure to perform so that my scowling, disapproving perfectionist father would love me and more importantly approve of me, but I had to live up to his expressed expectations so that others would see that I was competent and deserved to be there.
I learned a lot in the first few years there. He pushed me in ways that I needed. I was shy and insecure and he expected me to make things happen! I learned to express myself clearly, get on the phone and make it happen and eventually I began to see that I was pretty good. He definitely gave me a confidence boost but I wasn’t prepared for him offering me a huge promotion to Urbana communications.
I’m still not sure why he did that? I had a communications degree but it was meaningless at least in my mind. It was a “I don’t know what to study” degree. When I started that job I was equal parts thrilled and terrified. I had tons of ideas and I felt so passionate about my ideas that I wasn’t afraid of what others thought. Those were good days in the beginning. Days of huge learning and beginning to shape communications for Urbana the way I wanted. Yes, I was very I centered. But things were going fine until I ran up against Scott Wilson. He told me at one of our first lunches that this was “family” and family looked out for each other. I had been looking at an external ad agency to help bring some new ideas into the promotion and in no uncertain terms I was told if I did that, I was not “in the family” [insert lingering unspoken threat]
This was so outrageous to me that I remember going home and laughing with Tom because it sounded so mafia-like. Turns out he wasn’t kidding and that began a power struggle that only escalated and continued up to the day I left InterVarsity. I take that back, after I left on maternity leave with my third child, after what came to be my last Urbana, he began to ignore me.
Ten years later, I know that I never wanted to leave InterVarsity. I loved my job. I was tired and very pregnant and burned out. I felt like I wasn’t totally supported when it came to my job and that I was being ignored structurally. I felt unsure about a new Urbana director and tired, did I mention how tired I was? I did Urbana 2000 seven months pregnant, wrote my report totally exhausted, had my son, did the maternity leave and then … I didn’t know how to return and it didn’t seem like it mattered to anyone whether I did or not. No one was there to help me get a plan together for the future. I fell between the cracks.
I never experienced resolution to the conflicts with Scott Wilson. I never got support for some of the issues I had on my team. I felt that I had somehow failed and yet, I can’t think of how really. Three bursting conventions. The goal had been achieved. I guess my problem was that I always wanted more. And ‘more’ wasn’t going to happen at InterVarsity with Scott around.
The funny thing is how different Scott and I are. I express myself in writing, he’s verbal and extremely articulate. I’m shy. I am not a people person, I’m an ideas person. I have learned over the last ten years that I am really okay with lots of solitude. I hate meetings and process, though I see how important they can be. I love team and community, but I don’t know how to achieve it. If someone could have helped us, I think Scott and I together could have been very effective with InterVarsity communications, but as it was the whole thing crushed me.
But I can see God’s big and loving hands on this whole thing, because I don’t know if I could have learned the things that I have about myself and about Him if I had stayed at IV. Spiritually, I was dying there. I equated all this pain I was experiencing with God’s care for me and it didn’t feel very good. I was hurt, and angry, and ready to tell God to f-off!
My story changed at that point to one of personal redemption. I was experiencing postpartum depression, I was coming off being a workaholic to being a full-time nursing mom of three in diapers. My identity issues which had trailed after me all my life flared their ugly head and all of a sudden I felt irrelevant and like a total failure. After thirteen beautiful learning years at IV, because of the lack of closure and lack of resolution to this conflict, I felt I had failed.
I should have been able to figure it out but I was incapable at the time. I put some of that pain into my final report, but I guess no one that mattered read it because I never heard back from anyone at IV. It was like I had fallen off the face of their planet. What short memories organisations seem to have.
As I dealt with depression, which worsened I began to wrestle with alcohol. I am not proud of those years certainly. I was self-medicating and only later learned that it was genetic and my mom would soon get help for her own alcoholism. I continued to wrestle with it off and on for years. My father got sick, diagnosed with brain tumors. He had surgery meanwhile I was trying to figure out if I should go on an antidepressant which was a heart wrenching decision. At the time of the doctor’s appointment for that, I discovered I was pregnant. I flew off to Colorado to be with my parents, knowing I was pregnant and clinically depressed. I did go on the medication. And for four days I considered an abortion, feeling I was an unfit mother. I don’t know where the thoughts of aborting the baby came from but I was in a major depression. Six weeks later, the baby self aborted. A miscarriage.
All the while we were dealing with my father’s illness, my mother’s her drinking became a danger to others including dad and herself. In the end dad died, mother got help, and I was back with the problems I had before it all started. Still depressed, confused, lonely and angry at everyone.
On and off over the years I have sought help for my drinking. It was only in the last year that I knew I could stop. I know my drinking would never have happened if I had a full-time job. I hardly drank when I was working. And I do believe looking back that the opportunity for ‘abuse’ came with too much time on my hands at first, boredom, the stress of little ones under foot, the genetic propensity, and the almost manic depression that I was getting help for at the same time.
I am grateful now that I had the last ten years to slow down enough to see myself – feel my feelings – stop achieving long enough to realize how badly I felt about myself. When I was working I was a maniacal over-worker. If I had a slow day I would get this crazy black cloud over me that I had to run from and so I just kept running. Doing. Achieving. I stopped feeling. I stopped believing in the purpose of Urbana. I stopped experiencing God. My faith was so disintegrated at that point that I remember feeling I had better leave before someone finds out what a hypocrite I was.
This is all to say that I know I had many failures while I was working at IV. I allowed pettiness and bitterness to dominate me. I overworked people. I knew there were people on my team who were hurting and I didn’t know how to help them, so I didn’t. I just worked, because like my father that is where I felt competence. I was too proud to ask for help. And the few times I did ask for help, I was so filled with bitterness and anger that it is no wonder no one could hear me, understand the issues and resolve anything.
To Scott Wilson, I ask that you forgive me for disparaging you in my heart and with others. To Barney Ford, I ask that you forgive me for not keeping my heart healthy and free from bitterness. I ask that you both forgive me for allowing anger to dominate and for being a hypocrite. I stopped listening to God in those last years at IV and was probably more of destructive force then anything. To all the people who served with me, like Barry Sherbeck, and many others I ask your forgiveness for being so bitter. For wasting so much of your time with my dark heart issues. For people who worked for me, like Paul, and Mark, and Grace, and Carol, please forgive me for pushing you so hard. And for being a feeble boss. Grace, I should never have hired you knowing I was not going to be the supervisor you needed. Please forgive me. I know you all needed things from me that I had no knowledge of how to provide.
As I said, I’m no good at forgiveness. Or perhaps it just takes me a while. I can only praise God that He gave me these years, that as I fell on my face and looked up He was there with open arms. I can rise up today truly able to seek forgiveness and to let go of all that pain and finally be free!
Be not judges of others, and you will not be judged: do not give punishment to others, and you will not get punishment yourselves: make others free, and you will be made free. Luke 6:37
3 thoughts on “When it comes to forgiveness, I’m lousy!”
Hey, this is Charles Burbank…
One aspect of forgiveness that I still struggle with is a sense of self-forgiveness. I know it’s mostly because I have spent most of my life either knowing better or feeling I should have done better. Perfectionism is hard to live with.
I have spent most of my life wanting my father’s approval, even though he would give it so freely… Yet, I still cannot forgive myself for choosing to stay with my mother when they divorced because I was tired of moving. I chose myself (not so much my mother), rather than live with my father. There is a weird guilt there that I’m sure doesn’t have any root in my father’s heart. But it’s in my own.
That’s the insidious part of forgiveness. We can go to people for forgiveness, and they usually grant it (not always). But then, we still feel badly about what we just asked forgiveness. We go to God and ask for forgiveness for the things that we have done wrong, and as far as the east is from the west, so far out of His sight does it go. For some reason, we go to the ends of the east from the west, take that sin and put it back on our shoulders. As if to say, “Jesus, your death on the cross wasn’t enough for my sin.”
I suffer from the sin of pride, but the awkward reality of it is… I’m proud of things that don’t make much sense. That’s the part where I trip and inevitably fall.
I can ask forgiveness, but sometimes I don’t ever feel free from it. I believe it’s mostly because I cannot go that next step and allow myself to be human. I’m constantly living up to some weird internal standard that I will never attain. What a great way to go through life. I deeply wish I knew where that standard comes from, because I only extend it to myself (at least I think). I forgive others their transgressions, and am constantly asking for forgiveness myself…
All that said, I am so pleased that you are starting to experience a break there. Your heart must be ready for the healing that only forgiveness brings. Like a balm on the face in cold winds, I pray that the Lord reminds you who you are in Him, and that knowledge allows you to move forward. Thank you for sharing such a vulnerable feeling with the insight you have. It helps to know that God’s transforming power does reach as deep as the brokenness in our lives. It gives me hope for the next step.
May Grace fill you to overflowing,