JUNE: Driving across the country with my kids in the back seat, I had a lot of time to think. On a particularly long stretch of interstate, somewhere on Route 66, a thought came to me: Now you know Him.
Over the years, I’ve learned so much through my healing from abuse and betrayal. One of my favorite resources; The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Podcast has helped me throughout my healing journey. Betrayal Trauma Recovery has helped me deconstruct so many words or concepts that haunted me for years.
One such concept was “forgiveness.”
Growing up in the church, I never fully comprehended the Lord or the Atonement. I remember learning that Christ experienced all things. I always wondered how—how in the Garden of Gethsemane did He feel what I’ve felt? How could He understand what it feels like to be betrayed so completely by a spouse? And how could He feel such pain and still forgive those who betrayed Him? How could I? The thought of it hurt my heart, like a dagger stabbed through it. I had suffered profound abuse and betrayal—trauma that could break a person ten times over. Could I forgive?
On that long drive home, expecting me to forgive felt like kicking me when I was down. I’d just lived a summer of magical healing—the kind you read about in novels with good witches, enchanting spells, and the fountain of life. Now I had to return to a dark place full of many people I had trusted with my life, my children’s lives, but who’d betrayed me in a way that felt unfathomable. Forgiveness felt dangerous and distant.
Once home, I held my head high, even as I returned to church, coming face-to-face with those who’d taken a role in this pain. I got through it but barely. “Forgive and forget” rang in my ears like a bad song. Did they not know how deeply damaged I was? How could they think telling me to forgive at a time like this—when I am just trying to keep myself together—was helpful? I concluded I wasn’t strong enough or stalwart enough, nor could I survive more of this forgiveness message. So I set a boundary of safety and peace by removing myself from my faith community.
I created my own world, a place where there was no thought or talk of forgiveness, a place for practicing boundaries. I set boundaries like I was putting up fences with locked gates at random places in my wilderness. Boundaries for email and texts, boundaries for church, boundaries for this person and for that person, boundaries for so many things. Soon my wilderness was all crooked, filled with makeshift fence posts, some in need of repair, others freshly painted white, all serving one purpose—to keep me safe.
But I was still hurting so much. And forgiveness was still an uninvited guest for whom I had no room at my table. I didn’t want that feeling anymore. To stiffen, to prickle at the idea of forgiveness. Yet, that feeling didn’t feel safe or peaceful. So I wondered, “Do I know Him?” Had my boundaries heal me? Where was the Atonement now?
Then, I ran into one of my ex’s many mistresses at the grocery store. This woman had cheated with my husband, lied to and about me, stolen from my home, pilfered private parts of my life and livelihood, even tried to take my children from me, and then behaved as if she were oblivious to it all. She smirked when she saw me standing by the ground beef. And I… I didn’t respond. I didn’t acknowledge her, act surprised, become emotional, or swell with hatred. I didn’t have the overwhelming urge to tell her to go to hell. I just felt…indifference toward her.
I didn’t even feel pity for her. Not for how lost she must’ve felt, for how miserable she must’ve been to do what she did to me and my children, for how insecure she truly must be, deep down. I felt not even an ounce of pity. Just a bunch of nothingness. Indifference.
What on earth was going on inside me? For years, I cherished my anger because my anger kept me safe. It gave me the stamina to build fence after fence in my wilderness. It helped me to live, to keep living, to make it through each day. It helped me take action. It was the fire that kept my soul warm. I’d made friends with my anger—and now, it seems, she’d slowly dimmed to embers.
Henry Cloud writes, “Forgiveness gives me boundaries because it unhooks me from the hurtful person, and then I can act responsibly, wisely. If I am not forgiving them, I am still in a destructive relationship with them.”
I spent so much time on my beautiful fences. They were good, sturdy boundaries that helped me to walk in that wilderness. I needed it that way. And after I lived for a while in that space of safety, I realized that I’d held fast to the false dichotomy of having to choose between forgiveness and boundaries, when in reality, forgiveness is boundaries. Building those boundaries allowed me to invite forgiveness in for tea at my table, if only to hear her out.
Not long after, on a bright, sunny Monday morning, I received yet another nasty text from my ex, telling me everything that made me worthless in his eyes. And my reaction? More beautiful, welcomed indifference.
So much indifference that the surprise of it had me laughing out loud in the middle of 7-11. I couldn’t contain myself. It was the kind of belly laugh that might make some think you’d gone mad. The kind of laugh that heals the ache and soothes the soul. The kind of laugh that happens when it rains on your wedding day and you’re wearing white. This laugh jolted my body, awakening something in me and clearing out the cobwebs that’d grown in my deepest, darkest corners. It was a joyful laugh brought on by the happy break-through of indifference. And I realized:
I’m released from this situation.
I don’t have to respond to this latest diatribe.
I don’t have to let this mean anything other than the crap that it is.
I don’t have to absorb the thoughts it was meant to give me.
I don’t have to let this take anything or anymore from me.
And instantly, I understood that I understood so much more. Forgiveness is my new boundary. My thoughts returned to that long stretch somewhere on Route 66 when my mind filled with the still, small voice: Now you know Him.
Growing up in the church, I hadn’t quite understood the Atonement or how Christ could experience all things. In the Garden of Gethsemane, could He really feel what I’ve felt? Even this unspeakable pain of betrayal?
Judas betrayed him for ten pieces of silver. His disciples fell asleep when he pleaded with them to witness. His followers cast their own stones at him. His community crucified Him. At that moment, I knew what the whisper meant. Now I know Him. I know Him because he did feel this. He felt all of it. He felt the sting of betrayal. The despair of disappointment. The pain of persecution. The death of a life.
He felt it. And now I know—Him.
This realization was hope itself, the beginning of forgiveness. It was buoyancy. It was a little glimmer of “I can get all the way through this.” The pain, the boundaries, the indifference were the path toward forgiveness. It was the Atonement in every sense of the word.
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