Monday, November 12, 2012

When They Trespass Against Us

I saw a sign in a church parking lot. It read: "Parking for Church Use Only. Violators will be towed." I wondered if it might be more effective if some humor were used: "Parking for Church Use Only. Violators will be baptized and expected to tithe." That should clear the lot.

I heard of one church that posted a sign that read, "We forgive those who trespass against us; but they will be towed all the same."

We've all had people trespass against us in one way or another. And we have each done our share of trespassing. The dictionary defines trespassing as any offense, transgression or error against others. Trespassing covers a huge territory. Though not always intentionally, I know I’ve trespassed plenty over the years and more people than I can remember have trespassed against me.

In his book Lee: The Last Years, author Charles Flood reports that after the American Civil War, Confederate General Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Union artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss.

After a brief silence, the general said, "Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it." He seemed to know that as long as she continued to recount her losses, she'd never get over them. She had to release the North from her debt in order to find anything like happiness again.

There’s a lot I have had to cut down and forget. I believe it’s the only way ahead. It’s the only way to really live after loss, hurt or insult. Cut it down and forget it.

Judith Wallerstein studied and wrote for years about the lives of people who experienced divorce. At first she was surprised to discover how long feelings of anger and hurt lingered after a divorce.  Even ten years after papers were signed, Wallerstein noted that many former husbands and wives were still just as angry at one another as in the beginning.  It’s as if they gazed every day in contempt upon the grand old tree that used to be their relationship, now scarred and irreparably damaged, and used the ritual to feed their bitterness. She noticed that some former spouses, years after a separation, still recited in detail negative violations and trespasses of the other.  The problem? These unhappy people were trapped emotionally by their anger and bitterness.

People will always trespass against us. But there comes a time to cut the tree down and forget it. For in the end, I’ve discovered that only when I fully release others from my debt am I able to build the happy and productive life I want. And though cutting that tree down is rarely my first impulse, but it is my best final response to those who trespass against me.

--  Steve Goodier

Image: Linehan


Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you might elaborate on explaining how does one 'cut down' the loss of a relationship? I've heard some say, 'I can forgive, but not forget...' this is what I'm experiencing. The person I've stopped communicating with has good points and those that caused me grief, so it feels like I've thrown the baby (the good) out with the bathwater (the bad), and am having a difficult time knowing how to reconcile myself to the empty void this relationship has left within me. So again, how exactly does one 'cut down' an emotional situation....i.e. never talk/see them again, or keep a generic (non-personal) conversation line open? Any input you are able to give me would be GREATLY appreciated.

Thank You, Steve,


Steve Goodier said...


You ask a great question. Two thoughts come to mind.

1. It's always a good idea to get into a support group or counseling when you've gone through trauma, such as the loss of a relationship. You can work on these kinds of questions with another person(s) and get unstuck more easily. Books are also helpful.

2. Maybe a better expression is "forgive and forego." Forego resentment, forego retribution and getting even and, eventually, forego hostility and anger that is inevitably a part of such a loss. It may not happen overnight, but if you work on healing, you will be better able to forego (let go of) these thing.

You can't forget the relationship, however, nor should you. You will want to eventually forget the pain, after you've taken responsibility for your part of it and you're ready to let it go. But don't forget the good, the memories, those parts of him that caused you to fall in love in the first place and marry him. You'll feel loss and pain as you remember these things, but that will lessen in time. Essentially, much of what you feel is grief. Your feelings of loss and the void in your life is normal. It feels terrible, but it is normal. And you're still trying to figure out your relationship -- will it be superficial, can it have meaning? I think these questions, too, will be answered as you heal.

One caution: please don't fill that void with another relationship at this point. It should be healed first. When you feel happy and whole again, you will be able to attract someone into your life that can authentically share your happiness; not someone you need to make you happy or who has a need to fix these things in your life. Quickly filling the void with someone else will likely not end well.

-- Steve

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, I am having a very difficult time in general in “cutting it down and forgetting it”. I’m one of the people who, more than a decade after feeling abandoned (among other hurts) by my husband and the divorce, still can’t seem to “let it go”, get rid of it — though I very much want to, and have worked on forgiveness and understanding and going forward in therapy, too.

So ... in regard to:

"People will always trespass against us. But there comes a time to cut the tree down and forget it. For in the end, I've discovered that only when I fully release others from my debt am I able to build the happy and productive life I want. And though cutting that tree down is rarely my first impulse, but it is my best final response to those who trespass against me."

Please, if you have some wisdom to pass on regarding HOW to let hurtful past events go, I bet I’m not your only reader who would be grateful for any hints, suggestions, etc.

Thanks again for your wonderful YLSS.


Santa Fe

Steve Goodier said...

You ask HOW to let go. Of course, that is the hard question. Letting go is more of a process than a one-time decision. But it is still a decision. Deciding to let go of it, to put it behind emotionally, is a decision. But, for most people, it is a process. We make the decision to do it. Then every time we bring up the old stuff, the emotions, the anger, the resentment...we stop and say, "I have made the decision to let this go. Once again, I forgive and I will let this go." In time, you really DO let it go and you move on to a healthier place.

I hope this helps.

-- Steve

Anonymous said...

I keep this in my wallet ...

"Letting go isn't a one-time thing, it's something you have to do
everyday, over and over again."
~ Dawson's Creek

Hope it helps someone here.