[Word count: 1839. Approximate read time: 6-7 minutes]
I’ve thought about it often. The scenario loops in mind. It starts a few moments before my heart got broken, but plays out differently this time. Originally, I didn’t know what hit me, but this time I’m ready. My senses are keen. I discern when I’m being patronized, snowed. I know the true words from the constructed pictures. I know the sincere smiles from those stiffly pasted on top to keep me dawdling unawares. This time I’m nimble for the moment when I should parry. This time I’m just out of their weapon’s reach. Prescient of my opponent’s next move, I counterstrike and draw both blood and surprise. I pause and turn up a corner of my mouth taking in the surveyed victory.
Had my reality played this way, I wouldn’t have lost my power. So much might not have fallen out of balance. I would not have become a victim and someone’s casualty. As I step away from my imagination, I notice in running this scenario that my muscles have tensed, shoulders tight having not yet left the fantasy. My brows have furrowed and jaws clenched without prompting. The conflict has become so real during this mental exercise, that if the assailant were to appear before me physically, I could easily burst into a commotion of bared teeth and hurled furniture, expletives zipping through the air like throwing knives. It ain’t all good.
There’s just a moment to break myself out before the scene replays again from the beginning, folding another layer over on an already rugged anger. My conjured emotions have produced an ire that is very present and sizzling hot to the touch. The way I’ve rehearsed this vindication so well for so long, I become more and more confident in my ability to perform it. That scares me. That’s not the performance I wanted to perfect. I was supposed to forgive.
The toughest stains
It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. These trespassers aren’t gonna forgive themselves… unless they presumptuously do. When you’ve been injured by someone who claims to have done no wrong and accepts no fault, it’s particularly difficult to absolve them. Where you can usually get over offenses with an initial running start, some are so high and lofty that even your best leap only lands you face to their broad side, sliding back down to where you started.
Those are the tough jobs. Those people have to be approached with an already-prepared forgiveness. Like my opening scenario, forgiveness has to be studied and rehearsed over time. You have to play and replay scenarios where you’re unaffected by the aftermath of the offense, until they become more real and present and possible. You have to see yourself being “over it” before you actually are. Forgiveness has to be chosen and premeditated, courted and coaxed. You can’t just uncross your arms a little bit and wait for it. Forgiveness is elusive and catlike. It simply does not come to you on command.
In the places where you have painted detailed images of comeuppance, you have to erase and wash down the walls as best you can. You’ll need space to redraw the possibility of armistice. I’m not even talking about restoring love yet. I’m just laying ground work for both sides to lay down arms. Pace yourself. You’ll have to visualize a cease-fire before one can happen. If not, when the shells stop dropping, you’ll find the silence odd and uncomfortable, think something is wrong …and resume the war as previously rehearsed.
The high cost of forgiving
When you are wronged, you are due a reparation or an apology at the very least. These are things of value that you are rightfully owed. However, if it’s a truce you seek, it may be a good gambit to forfeit what you’re due. Don’t insist it be paid. Write it off as bad debt. Rather than considering it a loss, consider it an investment into the possibility of a future peace.
“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” —Psalm 34:14
Peace isn’t the easiest to find. There are obstacles. But if you really love it, you’ll go to great lengths to get it. Search it out, hunt it down. You may have to learn some wily tactics. You may have to limbo down to offer apologies although you are the wronged party. You may have to hurdle over hurt feelings, and scale the height of your insecurities. Maybe even take some shrapnel from the criticisms of those who don’t think the person who needs your forgiveness deserves it.
When all is said and done, you may have run a full emotional, spiritual, and psychological triathlon trying to prepare a gift of forgiveness for someone who neither knows nor cares that they need it.
It would be nice if they’d at least act like they want to be forgiven. It would make us feel better about doing the work, but that gesture is not essential to forgiveness. It’s only essential to the ego. The ego demands a petty show of deference. That’s what pride wants. The type of soul that requires groveling and obeisance, would intentionally withhold forgiveness from an offender’s grasp just to watch them squirm. That’s not revenge. That’s abuse. And if that’s how you are and what you do, it’s cheap and sad and you need to upgrade.
If—and this is a big if— if you want to forgive someone, you cannot wait until they deserve it. You cannot wait until they earn it. That will never happen. Even if they know of their offense, they may never be able to pay off the debts they have charged against themselves. That interest accrues so fast. Even if they sincerely want to make amends, there are some heart hurts that just cannot be made up for. So you can’t wait for them to earn it. You’ll wait forever. They can never earn it all. They can never earn it back. They never earn enough. Never.
The higher cost of not forgiving
Why forgive someone who won’t apologize? Why pardon a criminal without remorse? It does sound ludicrous. The guilty should have to pay for their crimes in full. Yet there is more to consider. Although the people groan, the state of California is releasing a number of non-violent criminals from prison. It costs the government too much to keep them there. Let that sit with you for a moment.
“…I no longer want to hold on to that which doesn’t make me strong
I don’t wanna care anymore if it’s right or wrong
I just wanna be whole again
Wanna be free again
Wanna be me again
I just want to
—Rachelle Ferrell, “I Forgive You”
Grudges don’t hold themselves. You have to babysit them. They’re high maintenance. If you decide you never want to see someone’s face again, you have to constantly forecast to make sure you never encounter each other at public events. You have to regularly police your relationships for crossed alliances that may bring them into your path. This never lets up, never lets you rest.
When you really loathe someone, you may roll your eyes and grouse whenever their name is mentioned. You may start to do the same to anyone who looks like them, talks like them, or shares their personality traits. It only gets more costly, spinning out of control. Whatever happened to not allowing someone to live in your head rent free? It’s kind of a big investment of time, energy, and attention for someone you don’t even like.
More than a few studies have linked “unforgiveness” with high blood pressure, immune deficiencies, depression, and stress. [Just as an aside, you should know that unforgiveness is not in the dictionary. Maybe you heard it in church, but they made it up (sometimes that happens). Surprisingly enough, preforgiveness is. Will wonders never cease?]
At some point, you should probably decide that you really don’t care to be bothered any longer with the maintenance costs of someone else’s offense. It’s less of a loss to let it go. Like a totaled car, you’re better off letting your insurance company cut you a check for an amount embarrassingly less than what it’s truly worth just so they’ll take the useless wreckage off your hands.
You will have to finally decide that you want your trespasser forgiven. And then do it. Sign the paperwork. Release them. Get them the hell off your property. It’s more for you than it is for them or anyone else. You don’t have to wait for them. They don’t have to want your forgiveness. They don’t have to sign for it. They don’t even have to acknowledge it.
“You don’t need to discuss much. Just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free.”
Are you seriously considering this? Is the thought of it making one eyebrow curl up higher than the other? Do you feel like a turncoat betraying all of your heart’s natural defense mechanisms? That means you’re doing it right. You may proceed confidently.
Get yourself free
“Doesn’t really matter what you did anymore
Doesn’t really matter what you did it for, or who you did it to
I forgive you
I forgive you
I forgive you
Totally, completely, now
What a freedom just releasing from my heart
From my mind and soul…” —Rachelle Ferrell
Can you apologize even though you’re in the right? Can you forgive even though you’ve been cheated? It’s more about releasing the wrongdoer than proving your righteousness. It seems very much like something Christ would do. I’m not particularly happy about it, but I see how it serves a purpose. In a world full of things that cause division and tear away quietly at the fabric of humanity, forgiveness does the opposite. It builds bridges and helps fill-in the gaps that offenses and hurts bore into us.
“A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember.” —Lewis Smedes
Forgiving is better than not. Both are an expense. If holding a grudge is what you want, that is paid for in jeopardized health, lost relationships, new lines on the face, and a decreased capacity to love even the people you choose to. Forgiving is healthier, but the ingredients you mix to make that elixir don’t come cheap. None of it is easy. Some sort of sacrifice will have to be made. Either you pay the emotional cost of forgiving their debt, or you pay the emotional cost of remembering it. I suggest you do whichever one you can afford.
[This post gestated from December 4, 2011 to May 31, 2012.]
- Defining Forgiveness: Five Things Forgiveness is Not (part three)(readingremy.com)
- What to do With Unwanted Anger(daphnegan.wordpress.com)
- How to Forgive: Setting Four Levels of Boundaries(readingremy.com)
- Defining Forgiveness: Forgiveness Is Not Trusting or Reunion (readingremy.com)