“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela’s words are a poignant reminder that even when we have earned the right to have negative feelings about someone who has mistreated us, if we choose to hold on to those feelings, we are imprisoned right along with whoever it is we are condemning.
When we have been wronged it can be so hard to let go of the natural feelings that arise. Letting go of our anger makes us feel vulnerable, and although letting go is the most powerful thing we can do, we often worry that it will make us weak and small…. And if we let go of our bitterness, doesn’t it somehow send the message that the wrong against us was acceptable?
No. Wrong actions are wrong actions- and the only thing that truly makes them acceptable is when the party at fault takes responsibility. Far too often, the one’s who wield the weapons against others lack the ability to be accountable for what they have done. And rather than stepping forward and doing the hard work of making things right, they fade quietly into the shadows and leave a broken relationship in their wake. You can choose to spend your life waiting for an apology that may never come, but while you wait, something inside of you will die. Let go of your hope they will do better. Maybe someday they will… but you can’t live your life for someday. What you have is today…. So live there.
Go on with your days in the best way that you know how. Remember that you do not have to love those who have hurt you. You do not have to condone what they have done. You do not have to protect them from the natural consequences of wrong action- and although it may take time, these consequences, they always come. Remember that no one ever requires your punishment; any debts owed will be carefully tracked by a source far greater than yourself….
…. And whoever you are, and however small you have been made to feel…. Remember this:
You are a child of this universe…
You are perfect whole and complete.
Just because someone else does not value you, this does not make you without value.
It can be the work of a lifetime to rise above the things and people that have hurt you. Bolster your ability to do this by keeping company with those who bring you joy. Surround yourself with those who want your good and see your good. Keep your life free of those who fan the embers of negativity in your world. When love is no longer being offered, walk away. Leave behind the things and the people who cannot see you clearly, but bring with you, your soft heart. This is how you begin to emerge from prison….
Walking all the way out of that prison of anger is something that often takes time, and that’s okay. When someone hurts you, give yourself some time with the pain. Talk about it, share it, and express all of the ugly emotions that are a natural reaction to pain. Don’t be afraid to dance with the bitterness…. But do not stay there too long… there is an old saying that if you chase monsters long enough…. Eventually you become a monster too.
Once the pain has made its path through you full circle- and you move from being on your knees to being able to stand upright- then you will be ready to walk out the same gate Nelson Mandela speaks of.
And when you walk through that gate without the burden of anger weighing you down, you will not be weak, and you will not be small. You will be free.