by Joyce & Barry Vissell
Have you ever been lied to or betrayed by someone you loved and trusted? Have you ever been harmed physically or had a medical procedure that left you worse off than before? Has anyone ever harmed one of your children? Has anyone not believed you when you were telling the truth? Has anyone you loved walked away from the relationship and refused to try to work out the differences? Everyone has been hurt by someone else. How do we get rid of the hurt and move on with our lives. How can we forgive?
Thirty years ago we were close friends with a couple perhaps ten years younger than we were. They also loved our two young daughters and were the first ones to babysit when we went away for our first weekend workshop. As our first book, The Shared Heart, became popular, the woman, whom I will call Linda, started working for us as an assistant. Then Linda’s husband suddenly left her and decided he wanted to live a monastic life at an ashram. Linda could not afford the rent on her apartment and, because we were going away for the summer, we offered to let her house-sit.
We returned six weeks later to discover that Linda had robbed us of everything valuable. Because we were going camping and river rafting, I had left my valuable engagement ring in a very safe and hidden place. It was gone along with the only thing that I had from my grandmother, a beautiful (and valuable) diamond pin. Both were irreplaceable. Barry’s expensive camera was missing as well as countless other things. Linda had searched through every box and drawer in our home, even dumping out our Christmas decorations and breaking most of the antique ones from my great grandparents. Then Barry called the bank and discovered that Linda had stolen thousands of dollars from our banking account. She was gone with no way to discover her new location. Her former husband had no idea where she had gone. How does one deal with something like that? We loved Linda and trusted her implicitly. It was the betrayal more than the stolen items that hurt the most.
Of all of the things that were stolen, it was my engagement ring that hurt the most. Barry had worked for a whole summer as a waiter to earn the money to buy that ring. He gave it to me in a most romantic way when we were both twenty one years old. I dearly loved it! Nothing could replace the deep sentiment I felt for the ring given to me by Barry in the innocence of our youth.
Over the years, whenever I would tell the story about why I do not have an engagement ring, I would get tense and sometimes my body would start to shake. Often I could not sleep at night after telling the story. I just could not get it out of my head and heart that someone we trusted so much could betray us and then disappear. I hate to admit this, but I used to fantasize being able to tell Linda all of the ways that her actions had hurt me. After a while I just stopped thinking about it and sometimes several years would go by until someone would draw my attention back to the fact that I did not have an engagement ring.
Fifteen years after the robbery I picked up the phone and it was Linda. She was crying and told me how terrible she still felt about what she had done. She told me about her many sleepless nights and how badly she felt about herself. She was crying so deeply that my heart opened to her. I felt a strong presence of love come through my voice as I told her that Barry and I still loved her very much and that she must have been very desperate to do such a thing to us. I told her that we forgave her. Since she was living in New England and we were traveling there to do a workshop the next week, we arranged a time to meet. I told her it would be so good to get together and share our feelings and that she could begin to pay us back for the many thousands of dollars that were stolen. She agreed to meet with us and to begin paying us back. I ended the call with a lot of love and forgiveness.
She never met us, never started paying us back, and never contacted us again. For years I felt as if I had been too loving with her and criticized myself. Just last year I was reading the prayer of St. Francis in which he says, “Grant that I might seek to forgive rather than be forgiven.” In reading those words I felt that Linda had given me the gift of being able to fully forgive someone in this life for a deliberate transgression. Everything I had said to her on the phone fifteen years ago was right. The power of love asks that we forgive completely. I needed to let go of the story behind why I do not have an engagement ring. I will always miss my ring for I dearly loved it. But I do not have to cling to the story behind why it is gone. I can let go of the story and be free. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to truly forgive someone.
Last month I was sitting in a nail salon having my toenails done. There were five women my age having their fingernails done. Each of these women was wearing at least two or three very expensive diamond rings on each hand. The person doing my nails noticed me looking at their rings and gently said, “I like your wedding band.” I looked down at my simple gold wedding band, which we purchased for forty dollars forty-six years ago. I have worn it every single day. The lack of the diamond ring that went with it no longer bothers me, for I have a much greater diamond to wear in my heart … the gift of forgiveness for another.
Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell: Jul 19-24—Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR; Oct 14-20—Assisi Retreat, Italy for individuals and couples; Feb 7-14, 2016—Hawaii Couples Retreat
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.