I felt the arrow pierce my flesh, ripping through my entire being. Although it had struck quickly and quietly, it felt as though the entire world around me was screaming with the pain of it.
He was supposed to love me! Why was he shooting at me?
I drew back my bow and fired. I watched as my own arrow pierced him, the man I loved so much.
He pulled it out quickly, looking at me as though he was surprised. Did he expect to destroy me without a fight? Did he think he could just fire at me and make me give up?
My mind was muddled as I tried to register what his look meant.
But it didn’t matter. I drew my bow again, firing, firing, firing, as quickly as I could pull the arrows from my quiver. I watched him drop to the ground, watched him flailing to pull the arrows out.
I reached down to the arrow lodged in my chest and I broke off the end that was sticking out. The part of the arrow that remained inside of me was now all I had left of him. I would keep it, let the pain constantly remind me of what he had done. That reminder would keep me from making the same mistake twice. It would allow me to remember that people were never safe, that even the love of my life had tried to destroy me.
I had other arrows from days gone by. My body was riddled with reminders of the people who had hurt me. I began to run away, back toward the safety of my isolation.
Weeks passed. I watched the wound fester, pink streaks of infection travelling to other parts of my body. I saw the old wound’s pattern connect with the new, the infection merging and becoming even greater. I began to experience a fever, vomiting, feeling wretched every moment of every day. One arrow had not been powerful enough to make me so sick, but the combination might kill me.
Maybe that was best. I wanted to remember. I wanted to know what it felt like. I refused to remove the arrow. Friends came and talked to me. “Shannon, you need to take the arrow out if you are going to get better.” “I’ll help you pull it out if you like.” They brought medical equipment, a cart with soft cloths and poultices to rid my body of infection. I refused it all.
I clung to the arrow. I was determined to never let it go. I wanted to protect myself from others who might get close enough to shoot me, and I felt the only way was to keep this arrow inside of me. I couldn’t trust anyone. I didn’t know who was going to shoot me next. Eventually they stopped coming. They couldn’t stand it anymore. They wanted to help, but my stubbornness was greater than their desire.
The disease grew worse, my entire body becoming a cesspool of infection. I could no longer walk, could barely pull myself along the floor. I could feel the toxins bubbling under the surface. Every movement, every thought ached with the pain of the arrow. I knew I would die soon if I did not remove it. Somewhere deep inside the recesses of my mind, I knew. I knew that the pain of leaving the arrow had to be greater than the pain of removing it.
So I rolled off of the pallet my friends had made for me, crying out with the pain as my body hit the floor. I slowly put one arm in front of the other, pulling myself over to the fire. This was going to hurt.
I reached down, hands shaking. I looked at the wound for the first time since I had broken the arrow. It was swollen and green and oozing, with a smell so foul that it made me want to vomit all over again. I began to squeeze, and like a 6 in. pimple, the infection spurted from the wound. The pain was excruciating now. I might rather die. But I kept going. I had to, for the sake of my children. Each time I squeezed, more of the poison escaped my body. Finally, after what seemed hours of torture, there was only blood coming from the wound. I knew it was time to extract the arrow.
I looked at the hole, so much bigger now than the original wound. I knew that healing was going to be a longer process now. That I would need to be especially diligent with keeping more infection away.
I reached into the hole, screaming and writhing in agony. I could feel the jagged edge of the arrow. I wrapped my fist around it and pulled as hard as I could. The edges of the arrowhead had grown into my flesh and it tore open again as I removed the arrow. There was blood everywhere. I was empty. The gaping hole in my chest left me feeling like I could never recover. I almost wanted the arrow back, just so I didn’t have to feel this pain of total emptiness.
My brain grew fuzzy as more blood escaped the wound. I knew I needed to act quickly if I was going to live through this. I put some of the poultice on the cloths and shoved them into the wound. It burned like a fire had lit inside me, but I wasn’t so empty anymore.
That was the last thing I remember.
Bitterness. Such a huge part of my life for so long. I felt that it was my right to hold on to grudges, to hate the people that had hurt me, to despise them for the impact they had on my life. I knew I could never forgive them for what they had done. I quickly found that Max Lucado was correct when he said “Bitterness is its own prison.”
Hurt. Pain. Sadness. Anger. All healthy emotions. But when we keep them inside of us, when we don’t expel it from our lives, it becomes a systemic infection that festers until it impacts every part of our life. Bitterness literally eats you up from the inside.
It would be a surprise to meet someone who has never been hurt by the words or actions of another person. Small or large, there has been someone who has pierced your soul with an arrow of pain. And it hurt so much. Maybe you have been like me, where the hurt turns to anger, the anger festers and eventually, you experience the poison of bitterness.
There is only one way to clear out that infection. And the process is not easy or painless. It is hard, it is painful, and it is worth it.
Ripping and tearing into your soul to pull the arrows is not a fun process. It makes you bleed and hurt and perhaps even feel like dying would be better. The medicine of forgiveness burns, as you wish that you could see karma in action.
But if you don’t practice forgiveness, you end up being the one who pays most dearly. Forgiveness, as challenging as it can be, allows peace, hope, gratitude and joy to re-enter your life. It brings you to a place of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
But, how? How can I forgive the person who wounded me so deeply?
Forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. Sounds simple, right?
But you have to know before you make that decision that the act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life.
It is definitely a process. Here are a few things that have helped me over the years.
Be present in the current moment.
This is the biggest thing that has helped me. Our lives are like plays in which there are multiple acts. When one act is over, whether it be with villain or hero, let it be over and move into the next phase fully. I know that each person in my play has a necessary role, so I embrace them in that role, and move on to the next act.
Refuse to go to bed angry.
I have created a habit over the years of going through a gratitude list before bed. This always brings me to a place of peace and allows me to rest easier. Although my troubles may still be there, I adamantly refuse to interrupt my last moments of the day with anger and bitterness when an issue can be revisited the next day.
Try to understand me.
When I am upset, one thing that really helps is choosing to dwell on what I am feeling, rather than what the other person did. No one can make me feel anything without my permission, so my job is to investigate why I am feeling what I am feeling in that moment. I know that emotions are never “wrong” or “right,” but they are a part of what makes us human, and experiencing them is healthy and allows me to know myself a little better.
Don’t tell others what to do.
… even in my head. I know that I don’t own people. It is very easy to think I know the best thing or the right thing for someone to do. But allowing people to be who they are, to do what they feel is right, brings me a life of peace. People can make their own decisions and they are responsible for those choices, not me. This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn.
Go with the flow.
This might be a rather unpopular view, but I have found VERY FEW things that are actually worth fighting about. I refuse to use forcefulness anymore. I have become more tolerant of opinions that are not my own. I don’t interfere with other people’s lives, but if someone asks I will do my best to direct them. If someone offers me a viewpoint that I do not agree with, I generally acknowledge the fact that I have not considered that before, and I take some time to ponder what they have said. I try to soften my hard edges, and work my way into their life as I picture what they are experiencing in that moment. By putting myself in their shoes, I may see a completely different picture of reality.
I will not blame anyone for what I am experiencing or feeling. I cannot necessarily say why things have happened, why I endured the turmoil I did as a child, why my ex-husband hurt me, why I am sick, but what I can do is say, “I own this. I will live with this. I will take responsibility for having it in my life.” The only way I can remove or learn from a situation in my life is to acknowledge my responsibility. If I am hurting, I can look for the root cause and work to remedy it. If I continue to blame someone else, there is nothing I can do to fix it. And waiting for someone else to change is not likely, which leaves my healing in an unlikely position as well.
Let It Go.
Just typing that brought the song to mind. You know what I’m talking about… Don’t even pretend you aren’t singing it right now.
But really, what causes anger and annoyance after a situation? As much as I would like to say it is because of how wrong the other party was, or how illogical and unreasonable they were, the truth is that resentments don’t come from the conduct of the other party at all. They survive, they thrive when I become unwilling to bring an offering of kindness, love and forgiveness to the table. I have to realize that no storm last forever, and the faster I can extend grace to them, the faster tranquility and peace will return to my life.
Lao-Tzu said, “Someone must risk returning injury with kindness, or hostility will never turn to goodwill.”
Be Kind Instead of Right.
I am learning to de-personalize things. When someone says something that offends me, I choose to respond with kindness, rather than resentment. This is not always the case in the heat of the moment (yet), but I am slowly getting better at it. I constantly try to see things from the other person’s perspective and work on being kind and understanding instead of focusing on needing to be right.
It is not weakness to forgive. In fact, the difficulty of it is part of the beauty within it. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi said “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”