Guest Post: When Asking for Forgiveness
CW: child abuse and neglect
Members of my extended family feel a special bond with Brad, my nephew. He has an infectious smile, intelligence, empathy, and an eye for seeing the beauty in everything. He’s an old soul, who has lived through too much tragedy in his young life. And, he recently taught me a point about forgiveness that I had not known I was missing.
I’ve watched him grow up. He was one of those kids who didn’t mind talking to adults, and we have similar interests in music, art, and social justice.
In April 2015, Brad called me.
“I need to start telling my family, and you are one of the people I wanted to know first…I am gay.”
In November 2015, his heart and many other LGBTQ Mormons and their families were broken by the Exclusion Policy. In a way, this policy made Brad’s decision to leave easier; he told me that the change in the Church’s handbook was a clear sign that our church did not want him. The rest of our family has muddled through this as many families have. My sister (Brad’s mother) and the majority of our family continue to be active, i.e. attending church weekly and fulfilling their callings. Some of us have chosen to step away because of this policy.
As Brad watched family members remain in the Church, he decided it was best to complete an estrangement he had started with his parents a couple years before he came out.
I knew my sister’s home, where Brad was raised, had issues. But, as we have grown closer, he has told me that things were more awful for him growing up than I suspected.
Looking back, I knew something wasn’t right with my sister and her husband, but I never confronted his parents. I never did anything beyond thinking, “Hey, I should probably do something about this.” For years, this thought popped into my brain after nearly every interaction I had with my sister’s family. But, I would always explained to myself that I was being paranoid, I convinced myself I would destroy the relationship with my sister, and I was sure she would not let me in her kids in my life at all if I addressed my suspicions of physical and emotional abuse with her.
I love Brad, and I believe him when he details abuse and neglect. I fully support him in doing what he needs to do to heal from his past. And, yet, my conscience pricked at me as we have spent time together now that he is a young adult. I knew I needed to ask for his forgiveness for those years when I should have been his watchful and brave aunt.
Last spring, in a moment of bravery, I said, “Brad, I need to ask for your forgiveness. I don’t know what I should have done, but while you were growing up, I should have done something to help you. I could see the situation was bad. I still don’t know what I should have done. I feel like I should have this figured out, and I don’t know how I can fix this with you. But, it was wrong, and I am so sorry.”
Brad said, “It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what you would have done. It matters that you asked for forgiveness.”
Sometimes, I don’t trust my instincts; I have a feeling that I did something wrong, or I see a situation that feels wrong. In order to not feel my discomfort and act on it, I try to rationalize it away…maybe I didn’t hurt that person, maybe my imagination is being overactive and the person I suspect isn’t doing anything bad. I try to compartmentalize my feelings and doubt myself.
I realized as Brad gave me his forgiveness that I don’t need to know how to fix what I have done to repent and ask for forgiveness from the person I hurt.
Also, I can forgive myself for not addressing the situation and determine what I will do in the future. But, first, I have to begin by seeing the harm I caused and feeling real sorrow instead of trying to explain it away. I have watched other family members try to explain away their discomfort, and I see Brad smile patiently with them. That first step is hard.
Often, it’s more comfortable to reframe a narrative or refuse to see the hurt we have caused. But, Brad has taught me that I don’t need to fear those emotions that cause me pain. When I embrace them with humility, I can see the path for my growth more clearly and be kind and forgive myself as I muddle my way on that path.
Due to circumstances surrounding this post, our author has chosen to remain anonymous and will not be posting more on this subject.