Gratitude for a Forgiving Heart (part 1)

What happens to a man is less significant than what happens within him.
 – Louis L. Mann

Perhaps it’s because I was writing a blog series on forgiveness that I suddenly thought of my ex-husband Bill that Sunday morning while visiting Saint Theresa Catholic church in Maui.

As I sat watching three young girls perform the prayer of Our Father through their traditional Hawaiian dance, I was overcome with a sense of gratitude for the soft feelings in my heart toward my children’s father. In that moment of grace, I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that if he could say he was sorry for the physical and mental abuse he inflicted on me and our children he would do so. He would do so because, like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, he knew not what he had done in his attempts to control his family in the only way he knew how, at that time.

My mind flew back some fifteen years earlier to the time I made amends to my ex-husband. It all started when I heard people talk about making amends to anyone we had harmed. At first, I thought they had to be crazy. I believed erroneously that if my abusers’ transgressions outweighed mine, than my ‘sin’ was somehow diminished, excluded, even canceled. For example, I thought that if people knew how mean my ex-husband had been toward me and our children they would understand how righteous I had been all those years compared to him. I really thought that should exempt me from making any amends to him, but O’ contraire! “You have to clean your own side of the sidewalk Dawn, no matter what his may look like,” I was told over and over again.

Perhaps one’s heart needs to be broken open for the experience of forgiveness to seep through the cracks. I was not able to forgive my ex-husband until I was able to “see” my own inhumanity. I needed to look at the ways I used people for my own needs, unable to see them as a whole person—or myself for that matter.  I minimized these misuses by telling myself, “Well at least I never physically harmed anyone or robbed them.”  My excuses were part of the trap that kept me from the gift of forgiveness—from being able to see in the round  both points of view in my relationships. I rated my “sins of commission and omission” as lesser than those that had been done to me, so I remained in the prison of non-forgiveness. Who then profited? Certainly not me. I remained in a world of angry torment until I was able to see my part in the demise of our marriage. I took a painfully honest inventory of myself, saw where I had erred, made amends and asked for forgiveness.

Grudgingly at first and very slowly, I began to think in terms of just who I was and what I was like when Bill and I had married and had our three children. What exactly did I—a frightened, needy, nearly delirious young girl—barely more than a child—bring to the marriage? The answer was absolutely nothing! I began to see that while he was marrying me for his own reasons, I had married him to escape my love and rage at Joey (my first husband). I saw that I had used what many would consider a sacred act—the sacrament of marriage—to arrest my awful descent into booze and promiscuity that culminated in a brutal rape that in turn, plunged me into a suicide attempt. To be continues next week…


Picture: St. Theresa Church in Kihei, Maui.

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Forgiveness: The Right to Protest (part 2)
Gratitude for a Forgiving Heart (part 2)