Are you in Pain? Take yourself on a Forgiveness Retreat. I did.
It was August 2010, I was on a church weekend Forgiveness Retreat. I had heard about the retreat a couple weeks before and knew immediately, with every cell of my body, a 100% yes !, that I needed to get myself there. No matter what favors or babysitting I had to call in, my heart and soul knew I needed some deep level healing. I may not have been ready to heal just yet, I was still licking my wounds. I was more at a place where I was trying to practice deep breathing between emotional roller-coaster outbreaks of “Why me?” and “What next?”.
So there I was, at this forgiveness retreat, not having any idea what to expect. I was new to the divorce journey and I hadn’t quite found my allies of support just yet. I was too busy processing the pain and trying to accept this new life for myself. On top of this pain distraction I had just moved back home to the bay area and was attending a church I hadn’t gone to since I was in High School. I was still in a no man’s land, somewhere in between the life I was leading before the “life change” happened and the space in between where I didn’t know quite who to trust, talk to and where to receive support. I was a little lost. And as a woman who had always prided herself on knowing what she wanted and where she was going this was hard for me.
I walked into the main hall of the retreat center and it was dark and uninviting. I was early. I was the first one there. Great, this is going to be a long weekend, I thought to myself. Can I still return to my car and take off before anyone see’s me? Apparently my spirit wanted me to get over myself and be there for healing but my broken heart, overwhelmed mind and distrusting body wasn’t quite on board yet.
Me? somewhere early, that never happens. Usually I’m squeezing in a workout or an errand and walking in just in time. But that day I was there early because I was scared. I was out of my comfort zone but I was also eager to do something different in my recovery. It had been more than 6 months since I’d started my divorce journey and I wasn’t in a good place yet. Before I had the chance to dart to the door a woman called out to me. It was the pastor leading the retreat.
There was another reason I was there early. Before the retreat we could book special prayer time with the pastor throughout the weekend. I nabbed the first spot. I wanted to be able to tell the pastor if I was crying uncontrollable that I was fine. I didn’t want the group to worry about me or hold up the itinerary of the workshop. I wanted her to know my story before the weekend began. It was my tendency to hide, overlook my own needs and take care of others needs before my own. Not this time. I wanted to heal. I wanted to have accountability with the pastor who was leading the retreat. I wanted to have a “deal” that this time I was going to break some of my life long patterns that I was beginning to identify. I didn’t want my life to ever be in this magnitude of depletion, turmoil, loss and grief ever again. It was too painful. To great of a loss.
After we met, the pastor walked me outside to a garden spot. As we sat there overlooking a Mountain view, she told me a little about her story and how she came about to leading the retreat. I then began to open up to her and share with her my story.
Healing takes admitting you are in PAIN
Why did this retreat call to me? Why am I here? It had been more than 6 months since my life and marriage relationship had forever changed and I needed more then the weekly counseling sessions and the books I was reading. I needed to find a way to integrate forgiveness into my unraveling marriage relationship or the pain was going to get the best of me. I wasn’t a fan of forgiveness but I needed to do things differently. I wanted to stop crying. I wanted to be happy again.
I told the pastor I was going through a separation process with my Husband of 10 years. We had 2 small children together, age 3 and 4 1/2. Our separation was a complete surprise to me. To say the rug was pulled out from under me was an understatement. I never saw our abrupt and painful ending coming. (Well at that point I was oblivious, I was busy with 2 small children and running a fitness business from my home. Later as I did more work I did see more pieces of the puzzle I was able to see later, but that is a sharing for another day.)
Even though I wasn’t a fan of forgiveness I instinctively knew that I needed to get my bearings on who I was and what I wanted so that I could make some real life decisions. Life decisions that would forever impact my family as I knew it. I didn’t know much about the journey I was on but I did know that I didn’t want to make any decisions out of hurt, anger or fear… I wanted to at least make my important life changing decisions from a neutral place.
Forgiveness work only works if you actually want to set the intention to forgive someone. I wasn’t there yet. And that was okay. I was still so resentful to my husband I knew I needed to clear that before I could do the next layers. Honestly, I had enough self-awareness that I was there that weekend with the intention of hearing people talk about forgiveness not actually ready to take it on the practice for myself. Not yet.
Since that weekend, I have learned again and again, that my soul came here to learn a life lesson. A Life lesson of practicing “FORGIVENESS”…. Note to self, please choose a life lesson a little less traumatic next time, please !?… Thank you.
So in the energy of teaching what we most want to learn…I need to flex my muscle a little and tell you the truth…on that weekend “forgiveness retreat” my wise pastor who heard my story… took a deep knowing breathe and said:
Build your Forgiveness MUSCLE
“Meredith, that’s a lot of forgiveness you will need to access to come through this to the other side. I know you have the courage and the strength to do this but it is going to take work and a lot of time on your part. You are an athlete, think of forgiveness as a muscle, this weekend, is only 48 hour container, this forgiveness with your husband is too much to accomplished in such little amount of time. Let’s think of something small, small disappointments, small betrayals, small heartbreaks…that you can practice working on in the meantime, this way you can build some muscle this weekend and you can keep going when you are ready.”
This pastor was speaking in terms I could understand. I could practice the way a beginner runner would run a 5k, then work her/his way up to a 10k, then a half-marathon and so on. Taking each mile a couple blocks or laps around a track at a time. No runner would just do a Marathon without a lot of work, time and planning. So neither was I going to forgive my husband overnight in a short weekend.
With this advice I could breathe a little deeper. Or actually start breathing. I think in all the shock and trauma and upheaval in the months leading up to this retreat. I don’t think I had been doing much breathing. Sobbing yes…breathing and surrendering into the process, No! Accepting it was going to be a long, very long process. No, definitely not.
The Weekend retreat started. The retreat was full of exercises, ceremony, music, quiet time and prayers. If you are a place that you too need to admit your pain, try this exercise below. If you are also feeling blocked of giving and receiving love freely in your life also try this exercise, it will help unblock you:
Forgiveness Exercise, start your List:
Step 1) Take out a piece of paper and answer the following questions. Write down names and as many details and emotions that come to the surface for you. Be open, vulnerable and allowing:
Who has hurt you?
Who has told you, that you couldn’t BE something you wanted to BE?
Who has told you, that you couldn’t DO something you wanted to DO?
Who has told you No?
Step 2) Go back and rank the level of forgiveness on a scale of 1-10 how painful it is to forgive that person. Work on your lowest levels first, then work your way up this way you will build up your forgiveness muscles and take the time that you need.
Step 3) Keep this list. Meditate daily on this list. Sit with the name, or names. Be in a posture of sending love and forgiveness to the person. Give yourself Grace for as long as this takes. Keep asking for help and support from those who have walked the forgiveness road too. Admit that that your journey is hard, then breathe and keep going.
More inspiration from the retreat.
Over this weekend I also heard these powerful releasing words,
“Forgive them, even if they are not sorry”
Did that ever take my breathe away. These words shook me up. Up until that time all my conditioning had been, that I could forgive someone if they said they were sorry and said the right thing. Childhood flashbacks of my 2 sisters and I fighting and our parents demanding us to face each other with eye contact, through tears and say we were sorry.
To be honest, my ex-husband did tell me he was sorry over and over again. In fact, he wrote me over 100 love letters…but I had gone to a place of unforgiving. Trauma and pain will do that to you. I remember reading his letters and even wanting to hear specific certain words from him. Nothing was acceptable. I now know that was my heart had hardened and closed in pain.
The Healing Journey
In my divorce journey I have learned a new ability to strive towards recognize the pain, staying open in the pain and showing up in and with LOVE anyway. This is so tough to learn and can only be learned by practice. Yes, and in my experience the Universe will send you those exact relationships to practice your needed skills if you need them. But I promise you, the more I have practiced, the stronger my forgiveness muscles, the more freedom and love I have been able to enjoy in my relationships.
In closing, if you are working on forgiveness muscles I want to leave you with another quote that I have served me in prayer, meditation and journal time in breakthroughs to deeper and deeper forgiveness:
“You can have a grievance or you can have a miracle but you can not have both” Marianne Williamson.
Some forgiveness mantra’s that have helped me:
“The success of my Relationship is always in my Hands”
“Freedom is a choice. Not something that happens to US”
“I am giving and receiving profound Love”
It’s been 8 years since I first started this forgiveness journey, divorce journey, healing journey and I am still going. And that is okay! Each person I meet on this journey leads me to a deeper understanding of myself and a lighter perspective of true Freedom.
Yours in Love, Big Love, the kind of love that loves through the pain, sitting in a body with deep healing.
Yours in the healing journey!
Meredith K. Mills
If you are finding yourself facing the need to forgive someone, in pain and struggling through it. You are not alone. Please contact me through MeredithMillsCoaching.com. I’d be happy to support you on your Life Change and healing journey. I’ve been there and I can help support you to get to the other side.