We all have that person in our lives, the one who lies to us or betrays us, leaving us hurt and confused. Every time you think of that comment they made, replay the scene where they are screaming at you (possibly with obscenities) accusing you of things that are complete fabrication, or the sudden change in temperature between you that remains unexplained, your heart pounds, your face flushes, and you want to curl into a ball in your bed and pull the blankets over your head until next spring. The pain is real, deep, emotional and physical at the same time.
After the initial shock and pain dulls somewhat, the anger rises up like bile in your throat. How dare they? What could you ever have done to deserve that? You start to think that you could possibly even hate this person who has so wrongly treated you. The temptation to retaliate is strong then. The mind races with semi-obsessive thoughts, picking apart every moment of every interaction to find something to throw back at them. The idea of forgiveness is the furthest one from your mind. It is definitely not the direction most people would go to first.
I’ve come to believe that the above is a completely natural reaction to being hurt. As a Christian, I struggle with this reaction as much as anyone else does. I know what the Scriptures say about forgiveness. That we are to forgive seventy times seven times, that we are to forgive as we have been forgiven, that when we fail to forgive, there is a rift between us and our God. How do we get to that point from our anxious pain? It isn’t a smooth road, but here’s the way I generally process it.
1. Assemble ‘evidence’. I’m not talking about keeping track of wrongs here. I’m talking about looking at anything you can find in your correspondence that can give you a better overview of the relationship and recent events.
2. Take a step back and analyze what you have gathered. Talk to someone you know you can trust and who can give you an objective opinion. Remember that they will only be hearing one side of the story, but try your best to give that person the clearest picture you possibly can. Be prepared for that person to tell you things you might not want to hear, but be open to seeing things from their perspective.
3. Once you figure out what your responsibility has been in the situation, own it. Do what you can to make amends. That conversation could go a few different ways. The other person may get angry, thinking that you’re trying to manipulate them into apologizing. The other person might laugh or just not care at all. The best case scenario is if they realize what they have done to hurt you and make their apologies.
4. Keep in mind, you can’t control that other person’s reactions. You can’t make them feel or say or do what you want, and things are never going to go as you may expect. Accept whatever happens, knowing you did what was right.
5. No matter what the other person’s reaction, once you have done all you could do, you have to let it go of whatever this person has done to offend you. This does NOT mean that you will forget what happen or automatically go back to the level of trust you had before. This does not mean that the other person ‘gets away with’ whatever they have done. This simply means that you are not going to hold yourself captive to the obsessive negative thoughts that go with holding a grudge, especially if the other person is unwilling to take responsibility for their actions.
6. Letting go every day, every moment, learning to focus on the positives will help you move past this hurtful time. Take what you can learn from it and move forward. Holding on will keep you stuck and really hurt no one but yourself. Sometimes this really does mean cutting the other person out of your life if a relationship with them becomes impossibly toxic.
Forgiveness is not an easy process, but to move forward into a healthier way of living. It teaches us how to be open and honest, not just with others, but with ourselves.