The Gift of Forgiveness
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year for three reasons: first, it is the milestone in all human history that our Savior Jesus came into this world to save all who were lost and redeem us. The world stops to recognize this day and celebrate His birth more than 2,000 years ago, singing “joy to the world; a savior’s born!” It is the only time of the year where any political correctness is thrown out the window and the name of Jesus is declared in the world!
Second, it is the season where everything is centered around giving: giving gifts, giving time, giving of ourselves. In the Contreras home, Christmas always includes giving to those most in need by supporting the less fortunate; this tradition of sponsoring families and those in need doesn’t escape our focus to serve and give.
Last but not least, Christmas is a time to reflect on the blessings of family and end of the year celebrations that support us in bringing us all together.
Our family traditions are such a beautiful part of Christmas. They help our memories live on year after year. Growing up, I never had rich holiday traditions as with my mom we struggled with poverty and addictions that plagued her life. During the short years when my grandmother took us in, although still poor, she worked hard with two jobs during the holiday season to make sure we had small gifts to open Christmas morning. The 2-3 years we lived with her were also the only years we enjoyed the beauty of a tree. Mom Keta (as we called her) was an incredible cook - my favorite holiday goodies were her famous Christmas Mexican sugar and cinnamon cookies! We devoured them in seconds. Now as a mom and grandmother for the last 31+ years I have made sure to introduce and maintain precious traditions with my kids and grandkids. That is the beauty of beginning again.
However, as we celebrate our family, we cannot forget that for many, the holiday season brings pain and stress, or grief after having lost loved ones – especially those lost to the pandemic the last two years. I knew emotional pain and struggle all too well growing up and have faced my own painful elements during the holiday season. As a young girl and teen, I despised how I associated the joy of Christmas with pain because I linked certain family members with the trauma of my past and the role they played.
Yet it took me years to realize that I had the power to release myself from this burden. Forgiveness was a key factor in moving forward in my life, even if Forgiveness itself was a struggle. Forgiveness is, in fact, a process, and everyone approaches it differently, and manages it differently. You can boil it down to five very important steps: acknowledge, accept, forgive, learn, and move on.
It starts with acknowledging the pain and how it has affected you: the context where it originated, the person who hurt you, the impact on your life. This requires considerable reflection on the past, which itself can be painful and uncomfortable as you relive some trauma. The important thing to remember here is that Forgiveness is about you, not the individual that hurt you.
Acceptance is perhaps the most difficult step, or at least it was for me. I had to accept that my anger and resentment could not change the past. My pain was always with me, and perhaps it would linger for my lifetime. But I didn’t want it to define me. With the acceptance of my pain, I could better visualize my path forward, like a fog had been lifted.
After acknowledging and accepting, you may find yourself ready to forgive. Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to let go of the feelings of resentment towards those who harmed you, regardless of whether they deserve it. It is not excusing their behavior, it is not denying the gravity of the offense, it is not an obligation to reconcile. It is a release from your own negative feelings and allows you to heal.
We all know the old adage “forgive and forget”. But for deep-seated trauma and pain, this is unwise. Instead, we should always learn from the experience. We may not be able to change the past, but we can learn from our mistakes, take precautions, and avoid those who have proven time and again to be toxic in our lives. No matter what lessons you gather from it, I’ve found that learning from the experience is critical to the closure process.
Finally, we move on. Sometimes the previous steps of forgiveness and learning can lead to repairing damaged relationships, and sometimes it doesn’t. In either case, moving forward allows you to finally feel the peace of mind you’ve been working towards.
Forgiveness helped release me into my life of joy and fullness. This holiday season, following the launch of my book and the memories of both trauma and happiness I poured into it, I am especially mindful of this. In the end forgiveness is a gift to yourself, so during this giving season I hope you will consider following that path too.
From the Contreras family to yours, have a wonderful and merry Christmas – I hope it is safe, filled with joy, and enriched with blessings!