I eat dinner every Saturday night with a fabulous group of people. Many of us face challenges of different sorts, especially challenges with food and resource scarcity. Sometimes those challenges surface when we are together and become even bigger, very immediate challenges.
These challenges play out in all kinds of ways: some funny, some tension-filled, some inventive, some difficult.
But sometimes these situations take another turn altogether.
Sometimes we are all shaking our heads in wonder.
Sometimes there is this almost miraculous element that is surprising and joyful and powerful.
It is forgiveness.
Sometimes it’s one sided, and that’s amazing. But sometimes it’s so all-encompassing that the entire group dynamic shifts.
Forgiveness is a little weird as a life-management option because it seems counterintuitive. It feels like giving up, losing ground, or, at best, leaving the conflict before your point has been sufficiently made. The act of forgiving has been made to seem weak. Its counterpart - apologizing - has the same bad rap. (Anyone else remember The Fonz, who could not manage to get the words “I’m sorry” out of his mouth?)
I have a friend who, through a series of events, had gotten several people upset with her. She realized that things she had said and done had alienated her from some of her best people. She left town for a while, then came back to make things right. She told me that she apologized and asked them to forgive her and give her another chance, and they did. Her life improved!
Another couple of friends who rarely see eye to eye had a public difference of opinion one evening. It was hot, we were hungry, tempers were short and feelings were hurt. It was hard to watch and hear.
Then one of them decided to let it go. Forgiveness means to give up resentment of or claim to requital. She offered an apology. He accepted it with surprise and a huge smile. The rest of us watched in awe.
Justice is a huge deal, and we should all constantly be working toward fixing what is wrong. Conversations and actions regarding justice can be difficult and confusing and time-consuming. Apologies and forgiveness help move justice forward.
One day another friend made an excellent case for forgiveness. She told me she had thought the idea of forgiveness was just a bunch of avoidance talk. But she decided to try it on a small scale. She forgave her neighbor, who had let his dog into her yard too many times. She said she felt so good not holding that against him anymore she was able to have a reasonable conversation with him and they came to an agreement and even began to share dog treats with each other’s pets.
She was left with all this space that the conflict had taken up in her mind and emotions, and that allowed her to consider dropping a lawsuit she had been pursuing. She said that the amount of money she was saving was only eclipsed by the amount of stress she no longer carried. She said forgiveness was the best thing she had ever done for her own mental health.
I took all of these examples to heart when I had the opportunity recently to offer forgiveness. I didn’t want to - it was clear the wrong lay with the other person. They weren’t looking for forgiveness, were not likely to offer an apology. I was asked by others to let it go, because holding on to it wouldn’t do me or anyone else any good. I considered, evaluated, weighed it all out. I forgave, felt better, got angry and retracted. I remember the lightness of heart that I have when unforgiveness doesn’t tie me down. It feels like a miracle. I forgive.