When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realise the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realise that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.
I wonder how many people have zero unforgiveness in their hearts? Is it possible?
Or will we journey through life, forgiving someone but soon enough there’ll be someone else we’d place in our “unforgiveness’ queue?
For some people, boy, you know they harbour unforgiveness in them—it shows.
The more dangerous ones though are those who shove their unforgiveness away; there, stuffed in between the crevices of their heart—while they go on with their lives—cheerful face on.
Not knowing that somewhere in their hearts, the unforgiveness is like a termites infestation. Those destructive little critters eating away from the inside, unseen at first, yet will eventually bring destruction to the outside if left undetected and unresolved.
Have I frightened you yet? Because I have sure frightened myself.
Why is it so difficult to forgive?
Because some of us don’t really understand what forgiveness is. And how to forgive.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting.
Let me begin with one of my pet peeves—when people say, forgive and forget. I don’t buy it. Unless one is unfortunately struck with amnesia or something similar, we’ll remember what others did to us. Forgiving others doesn’t mean we forget what happened. Oh, but how I wish that’d be the case. Then I won’t have to wince in pain when those memories trigger. Or feel like punching them in the face.
So I gotta choose—to allow those thoughts to torment me, or learn to say, “God, thank You for reminding me to forgive as You had forgiven me.”
Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting the offender mistreat you again and again.
What about repeated offences? It’s one thing to forgive someone for a one-off incident, it’s quite another to have to deal with repeated hurts. Let’s face it—some people are just mean-spirited. These people exist. They could even be in your family. Another type of person could be those who are plain unreliable or immature in his or her ways.
I know people say, walk away from friends or people who continuously hurt you. But what if the person is family?
In my case, I have no option of cutting those strings off. To cope while struggling to forgive, I had to keep a distance (sometimes physically). Just so I don’t be a martyr and place myself in front of those people and say, “go ahead and slaughter me with your words and actions; my God is big, and He’s with me.” Are you kidding me? Of course, my God is all-powerful, and He’ll heal my wounds—but He didn’t give me a brain to not think and not have the wisdom to keep being subjected to lack of respect and nasty treatments.
So, forgiveness doesn’t mean letting the offender mistreat you again and again. And it doesn’t say that you need to play the victim role and let the person walk all over you.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean there won’t be justice.
Another reason why it’s so difficult to forgive is we want to control. We might think that if we forgive, it means that we are ok with the offence. So we wanna control our “rights” to their “wrongs”. Gripping the offence tightly in our hearts gives us a false sense of justice.
Knowing that God is the final judge helps me to tame that resentment monster. I’m not saying I’m rubbing my palms with evil glee, waiting for God to punish the person. I’m practising letting go of taking things into my hands and releasing them to God instead. The former, bad for the heart; the latter, excellent for sanity.
Forgiveness doesn’t depend on them saying sorry.
Forgiveness is not about tit-for-tat either. Often I don’t wanna forgive because I want that person to know how wrong they are. But waiting for the person to change is giving the other person control over us and our sanity. So, forgiveness is not based on others’ actions but our choice.
Forgiveness is not a feeling.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you’ll no longer feel the pain, ever. Also, you don’t need to feel happy before you can forgive. (Or have to feel you have to like the person.)
Forgiveness is a process, not a one-time event.
My repeated prayer to God was, “Father, I know I need to forgive, but I can’t. Though I can’t, I still choose to forgive. But Father, please heal my broken heart. Help me.” That last line became the bridge on my journey to forgiveness. “Father, please, heal my broken heart.”
However, we wanna be careful and be real with our emotional struggles especially when the pain is fresh. When my heart was shattered into pieces and engulfed in the fire of pain; although I know the Bible has many scriptures on forgiveness, and Christ has demonstrated the greatest love and forgiveness to me—I still can’t forgive! I was an emotional wreck.
So, be kind to yourself as God knows your condition. Be careful not to merely cover your wounds and hinder the healing process. Forgiveness is a process, not a one-time event.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation.
Not every relationship will have reconciliation after forgiveness, though some do. Even if there’s no reconciliation, we still can choose to forgive someone. If you ask, “what’s the point of forgiveness if we can’t reconcile?” Just remember the termites in your heart, chew chew chew, bite bite bite.
Do I do all that I’ve shared?
Even though I’m convicted to the core of what I’ve written, sometimes there’s a stubborn side of me who prefers not to do any of the above. Preferring the safety of darkness; locking myself in as a willing prisoner.
That’s when I whipped up the greatest weapon ever—prayer.
Whether I feel like it or not, I’d choose (ok, sometimes I had to force myself) to pray for the people who’ve wronged me.
Sometimes I pray in my own words. Sometimes I use a guided prayer.
Often what started out as a reading of those printed words on the guided prayer turns into my prayer. It became real from within me. It became a cry to God. To change my heart. To heal where it’s needed. To feel compassion and love for the other person. To ask for forgiveness for myself and claim responsibility if I’ve played a part in the strained or broken relationship.
I find my heart slowly changing towards the person. For some, I even see changes in the person! Now…one might wonder; is it my heart who’s changed or is it them?
Whatever it is, this is the truth:
Prayer to forgive others.
If you have someone to forgive, and you wanna take a step forward in the forgiveness process, I’d invite you to think of them now. And pray along with this prayer:
Lord, I bring to mind (name) I bring him/her before You
I feel hurt by them Right now I confess any negative feelings I have about them I forgive the wrongs they have done towards me For any deliberate or unintentional things they have done That have caused me pain In the best way that I know how, I fully forgive them
I release them to You
Now that I have forgiven (name) I choose not to hold any grudges towards him/her Thank you that as I am praying now You are freeing my inner world to live again Free from resentment, pain and bitterness Filled with joy, freedom and love
I thank You for Your love and kindness toward me. It is Your kindness that has led me to repentance, turning from all my sinful ways and turning to You. I admit that I have not been kind, patient and loving to others when they have offended me. I have allowed bitterness and resentment to grow in me, separating me from others and You, Father.
At times, I have forgotten this unforgiveness in my heart. This unforgiveness festers deep within me, at times beyond my conscious reach. This affects every aspect of my life and gives the enemy a right to torment me as stated in Matthew 18. I confess that this unforgiveness and bitterness is affecting my life and relationships today. Because of these past hurts, I acknowledge the inability to love or trust others to any depth.
I understand that forgiveness is not an emotion but an act of my will. I now choose to exercise my will to forgive others as You, Father, have forgiven me. Father, I know that You are a searcher of the heart. I ask You to search my heart. Reveal to me any hidden and secret unforgiveness or bitterness toward others that have hurt or offended me.
I choose not to be ruled by a spirit of bitterness. I choose to forgive and have a spirit of peace and love in my heart. I repent, forgive and release these people right now. I ask You, Heavenly Father, to forgive me and restore me as I forgive those who have offended me. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would bring everything to our remembrance.
Dear Holy Spirit,
I am asking You to bring to my remembrance anyone I have to forgive and I will forgive them in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(I’ve lost the link to the original author/article. My apologies as I’m unable to give credit to the original author/article.)
This old saying from the 1800s, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can’t hurt me” was meant to be used as a defence against verbal bullying. It was intended to help the bullied person develop resilience.
I wonder—what’s the full devastating effect in the person, years on. Saying it doesn’t hurt him or her when it does.
That it’ll be able to withstand verbal punches and kicks. Especially true for young kids. Kids absorb the words said about them, and it remains in their memory decades on. Often, without them being aware of it. And they carry it with them to adulthood.
As adults, we too are slapped with intentional, hurtful remarks. Or unintentional, careless words. Sometimes it happens when we open up our heart to share something, and our vulnerability is met with unhelpful comments. Sometimes, the mess of someone repeatedly hurt and disappoints us.
Do those things happen to you?
My defence is to close that door to the heart. I don’t want to do that. It’s a defence mechanism. But one door after another closes.
And I wonder, would all the doors in my heart, one day, be shut off to the world? Would you shut off your doors too?
But I’d say—don’t.
That’s your key to eventually reopen the other doors in your heart. Keep the door open to God and let Him into your heart.
Who would have known that God talked about fear of missing out, FOMO, in the Bible?
Those things that occupied my mind, that kept me worrying. They even drove the way I live my life. Such a huge difference from the peace that God is offering to me.
What is FOMO?
According to Wikipedia, FOMO is “the apprehension that one is either not in-the-know or is out of touch with social events, experiences, and interactions”. And in Urban Dictionary, FOMO is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain caused by the fear of missing out”.
The last time I saw my father, I was about thirty-five. I haven’t seen him in years. My parents separated when I was three. Heck, I could count with my one hand, the number of times I saw my father in person.
On that evening when I last saw him though, he was wearing a long-sleeved blue shirt, cancer-skinny, tall.
The last piece of memory stored in my brain server was of me, nonchalantly giving him a casual hug. Like how you would hug an acquaintance when you part from a meeting. Nothing to be sentimental about. My father pulled in tighter to hug me back. I still can feel it.
I didn’t know. Because nobody told me. He didn’t either. I didn’t know then, it meant goodbye for good. It wasn’t a get-together dinner but a goodbye dinner. My brain didn’t register that. My paternal family were there, was my mum there? I couldn’t recall.
The arrangement to meet up started with a phone call from my father’s sister in Penang. “Your father has cancer,” she said. “Can you come back?” she urged.
Did she inform me only when he hasn’t got long left to live? Or did she inform me the moment he received the diagnosis? Anyway, it doesn’t matter.
I went back to Penang. About ten of us met over dinner. It was at my aunt’s Nonya restaurant.
Vaguely, I remember seeing him sitting opposite of me, across the big, round dining table. As if we are strangers. Seated together in one table. Yet with enough space between us to observe each other in a cautious distance.
There were no moments, no talks, nothing to fill over twenty years of gap between a father and a daughter. Just—curry chicken, tao eu bak (dark soya sauce pork), and other Nonya delicacies.
I couldn’t recall any of the conversations at the table that night. It was as if, there’s this programming of me being able to automatically detach myself. I don’t know when I was given this superpower curse. I don’t even have to will it. I just detach.
My heart and my mind, what should be one faculty—disconnected—each giving inconsistent instructions to each other. There would be bleeding of pain and trauma within me, but you can’t see it from my facial expression. It’s like my heart saying to my mind, and vice versa, you are on your own now. Don’t give me the feels. Function, damn it, function!
I’ve never known him. It didn’t occur to me that I wanted to. Nobody told me much about my earlier life. Looking back, I could have been sheltered from history. My young brain might not have been able to understand anyway.
But the thing is, decades later, I still haven’t received the much-delayed white paper of my childhood years.
Where is it? Where’s “Melinda Yeoh’s Childhood White Paper”?
What I have is, if you can imagine, bits and pieces of scribbled information on Post-It notes of my earlier life. My father was a mystery; my growing up years was a mystery.
I didn’t ask anyone much. When I could have. I mean, hey adults, look at me, I’m an adult now. I can handle this. Tell me. But, I didn’t ask.
I took in whatever pieces of information given to me, stored it in my brain server. I didn’t process it. I just stored it.
For a person who questions many things and loves to question, I asked little information about my childhood apart from what I’ve been given. Received input. Stored. Done. Move on.
My husband and I arrived at the funeral parlour around 8 pm, having driven four hours from Kuala Lumpur.
I remembered where we parked our car. About 500 metres away from where the parlour was. I got out of the car, the gravel ground felt unstable beneath my feet. It was dark. I squinted at the garish fluorescent light at a distance.
My brain wasn’t thinking. Guess what. Automated mode on.
I walked towards the funeral parlour, to my father’s side of the family, all I hardly knew. Greetings after greetings. Smiles. I peeked at my father in the coffin. More solemn greetings, smiles. And I took a seat at my aunts’ table.
My aunt asked me if I’d like a beer. Sure, of course, I would love a beer. Did I get the liking for beer from my father?
When I finished half the can of Carlsberg, I walked over to my father. Peered down at him, still don’t know much about this dude who’s supposed to be my father.
And of all the things I could have said, without thinking, I said this in my heart, “Well. Cheers to our first and last beer together.”
Then, my automated detachment mode failed.
That’s the instance when my heart and mind stopped going in the opposite direction. They connected; they were one.
I felt my heart’s cry and there’s nothing that my mind can do to act otherwise. My eyes went wet and warm. And I felt the pain. The pain I’ve never knew existed. A loss of something…someone…I’ve never had—a father.
Barely 2 minutes later, the automated mode was quickly repaired and engaged full-on. Stoicism won. I walked back to join my aunts. And finished the remaining half can of beer.
p.s. For those of you who need an ending to a story, or who need the moral of a story, there’s none I know yet for this story. It’s something I’ve allowed to surface from my soul, to allow God to deal with. And to share with you who’s reading this.
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I remember sprinting up and down the hospital floors, trying to make it and be present for both of them at the same time. I don’t know how I got through that.
~ July – August: two months of going from one test to another with my husband while grinding through the pain of 10. Through the hospital run, we found out that my husband has a choice to delay the chemo treatment. So, yay!
~ July: there’s a reconciliation for 10.
~ September: my step-dad got diagnosed with Stage Four cancer.
~ Then two months later, chaos in my workplace which left me and my trust shaken to the core. The intense stress triggered the triad allergic reaction of fever, diarrhoea and an entire body eczema breakout. Till this day, my eczema hasn’t healed completely.
~ During this period, my stepdad’s health went slip-sliding down. Chemo further weakened him. Skin and bones left together with his only hope in Christ. I was travelling back and forth to hometown.
~ My father-in-law’s health went on a decline.Lost part of his mobility. Started to need a caregiver.
~ The situation of 10 improved.
~ Prolonged and delayed house renovation. Excitement mixed with cement dust and paint fumes.
~ Turned my pain from 10 to purpose. Redefined and redirected my website, melindayeoh.com and my newsletter, HopeMail.
~ Step-dad died and went home to the Lord.
~ During this period, hospital visits increased for father-in-law.
Even though I’m smack in the thick of a bigger, more, faster world, as many of you who are reading this are, I find myself increasingly drawn over time—to a life where “hurry and more” is not the norm of life.
Where in fact, “hurry and more” is assaulting. Where having, wanting, striving for more, crowds out space in our heart for God.
I wonder, to those who had or are still going through lockdown due to the COVID19 pandemic, as you look out from the confines of your window, are you re-thinking about what’s really important in your life?