Something dawned on me recently. It taught me a lesson that I realized a great many of us could do with learning, and all of us should be reminded of. So I’m going to share this experience with you.
The Elements of Forgiveness
A couple years back, I hurt someone—even the best of intentions and the highest hopes can fall in disastrous ruin if executed poorly, but that’s another article entirely. The offense in question was mild, not serious at all, but of the kind that ends up getting blown out of proportion, and it was purely personal between that person and myself, so it won’t be mentioned. The point here is that I hurt them, and so they hurt me in return.
It’s not that they were consciously out for revenge, mind you—but they were hurt and they showed it, and that hurt me. They treated me coldly and unkindly, and that hurt me. I had not intentionally done anything to hurt them, but I had hurt them anyway, and that hurt me.
I felt guilty, I felt horrible, and even as soon as the next day dawned I knew I had to make it right—but I wasn’t given the chance. It would be a long time, nearly a year, before I would be given the opportunity, which I took at last and apologized, and did everything I could to make amends. Well, it came out right in the end—I was forgiven.
But I had carried my shame and my guilt for a long time before that happened. I had to deal with that. Sure, everything came out all right, I apologized, I was forgiven. I bore all the guilt and all the responsibility, I never once tried to shirk it or pin it on my friend, I never blamed them outwardly or inwardly. It was my fault. So I fixed it.
And life carried on, but without even realizing it, I was still hurt. To be fair, I had been treated unjustly. I had been hurt too. There was a lot that my friend could have done a lot sooner; like give me a chance to make things right, which was much more in their power to gave than it was in mine to create. Just to speak fairly, they could have done the human thing and met me halfway. Granted, they never knew how much they had hurt me, too—but couldn’t they have made an effort, like I did? Just a little?
I never blamed them though. I carried all the guilt and all the responsibility, and I never once let myself blame them.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Confessing your Anger
And then only recently, I realized that I was still hurting, but I didn’t quite know why. And, well, I realized it was because I was still wounded a little by what had happened; I’m a writer, I’m an introvert, I’m sensitive, and I value all my relationships highly. Well, this was a valuable relationship, and it was wounded for a while, and it healed, but I didn’t—yet.
And and that’s when it came to me: I was angry. I was bitter toward my friend for the pain they had caused me without ever as much as an apology. But I had never been willing to admit it until that moment. I had never been able to let myself think a thought of blame against them. And then I saw that that was my mistake.
I denied my anger. I bottled it away in my heart so tight that it began to poison me from the inside. I lied to myself. I told myself I never blamed them. But secretly, unknown even to myself, I hated them for everything: I hated them for the way they had treated me, I hated them for their blindness, I hated them for their hypocrisy, I hated them for leaving me so long to suffer on their behalf. In the core of my heart, of course I still loved that person; you can hate and still love. But somewhere in my heart, I did after all hate them.
I just never let myself believe it. I shouldn’t have done that; I should have been honest with myself and accepted that anger and that hatred. I should have opened myself to it, recognized it, and admitted to my disbelieving self that it was, after all, there. I hated them, and I should have confessed it a lot sooner.
Now, if this was a romantic relationship, if I had loved this person that much, I would have confessed to them personally that I felt that hatred for them. Without that pure, open-hearted honesty I can’t believe in the strength of a relationship that intimate and that sacred. With a woman I loved, I would have worked it out with them. I would have gone through the same process I’m about to describe with her. I would have asked her to help me learn from the experience and find a way that we could both, in future, be more considerate of each other. (And to be realistic, it might have ruined our relationship. But if that’s true, then obviously we didn’t have a relationship worth preserving anyway.) But in the case of this particular friend, it was not necessary for our relationship to have that close a bond. We didn’t have to live with each other, and thank goodness. So this didn’t concern them. This was something I had to work out for myself.
And so I had to confess my anger, let it go, and do the one thing that I had never done for them, because I never thought it was possible or necessary: forgive. I never forgave them because I never admitted that there was anything I had to forgive.
And then, when I accepted that I hated them, I didn’t want to hate them anymore.
I realized that my bitterness was selfish. There was no good reason for it. It was unnecessary and unhealthy.
Step one was letting the anger take control of me. I let that happen. I let myself hate. And then I felt dirty. I was filthy with hatred, and I didn’t like it. The next step was to clean myself.
That old, half-forgotten pain, the resentment, the anger, the hatred, all of it: I washed it away, I washed it right out of me and let it flush down the drain. I let it go. And the miraculous thing was, then, it was gone. I didn’t hate them anymore.
Like dragons starved in their cages, I had let my emotions free; they came out, strong with desperation, hungry for escape, eager to unleash their fury. I let them ravage until they had tired themselves out, I let them consume until they had their fill, and I let them destroy until they had destroyed themselves. When their energy was spent, I slew the dragons. They died, and with them, all the anger and all the hate they had fed on was dead with them. It was over.
Then there was only one thing left to be done. Repair the damage.
I had to forgive my friend for what had happened. I had to let go of the past, and accept that what had happened, had happened, and it didn’t matter anymore.
People make mistakes. But you love them anyway. I had made mistakes, and after all, I had been forgiven. They still loved me as much as I still loved them. Sure, we’d hurt each other, but that’s a small thing between friends. Anything either of us did was nothing compared to all the good things we had done for each other; forgiveness was just another one of those natural things friends do.
I didn’t blame them. Not because they hadn’t done anything wrong, not because I was taking all the responsibility, but because we had both done what we thought was best to make up for it, in our own ways. I really didn’t blame them now—because there really wasn’t anything to blame them for.
It Can Be the Little Things, Too
I used a large-scale example, but sometimes we let little, everyday annoyances push us a little further than we should, too. Forgetting is good, but forgiving is better. It’s a positive stance, rather than a merely neutral one, and it can be the turning point in a bad day. The everyday mistakes deserve to be forgiven, and they can be forgiven in the same way.
People can be frustrating—they can do the stupidest things. So now you’re angry with them, and don’t try to tell yourself you’re not, don’t try to suppress the feeling; admit you’re angry, admit that they’re an idiot. Kick a table—it’s the idiot, tell it so, hurt it (and possibly your foot), admit it’s an idiot. Even if it’s not physical, make that admission.
Then, let it go. Your anger is spent, now wash it away, breathe it out. Get rid of it. Now forgive; maybe they’re just having an off day. You have those too. So they’re an idiot; you can be an idiot in your own ways too, you know. They’re only as human as you, they’re no more an idiot than you are, and they deserve to be forgiven as much as you do.
A Few Reminders
Counting to ten really does help. Patience is important. Not to overlook and to forget, but so you can calm down and take a step back to remember all the reasons that you’re being unfair.
Take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror. Think about how little you’ve done to earn forgiveness yourself, and yet how much you still deserve it—simply because everyone does.
They’re not seeing from your perspective, but their own. Things may look different from over there. That’s why communication is important. Most of the time, people don’t even realize they hurt you unless you tell them. Showing it, on the other hand, usually only makes matters worse, because they may not understand why you’re suddenly treating them so coldly.
Sometimes it’s best to forgive and move on. Especially if it’s a first-time offense, just forgive it and let it go. There’s no reason to make a big deal out of it if you don’t have to. You don’t always have to talk it out.
Bear in mind, God forgives. If they’re worthy of His forgiveness, you would put yourself above Him and say they’re not worthy of yours?
One Last Lesson
And I think something else to be learned from this parable. It was good of me not to shirk the responsibility for my actions, and to own up to my own mistakes; but to shoulder as much guilt and shame as I did was really very unfair to myself. It’s hard to learn from an experience when you’re spending all your time wishing it had never happened. I blamed myself impractically, blowing my own crime out of proportion, and I blamed myself too long. I never let go, I never moved on, and I never forgave myself.
It’s wise to take responsibility for the mistakes we make. And if it’s in your power to make it right again, you should. There’s no hiding from that. But that’s part of letting go and moving on. You did wrong; that was an accident. Now you’re doing the right thing. Forgive yourself, and trust yourself to make good.