There comes a time in life when we must forgive another human for … well, frankly, for really pissing us off. It’s hard. It is very easy to run the tapes in one’s mind, replaying the offending situation(s) over and over as we work, play, or try to sleep (see: insomnia).
Forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us…
It’s no accident that forgiveness is called for in the Lord’s prayer – a prayer repeated during every Catholic mass I’ve ever attended, as well as several Protestant services. It’s so simple and yet so. freakin’. hard. to do. According to the New Testament, this is how Jesus suggested Christians should pray. Praying should not be showy. Prayer is not a way to prove oneself more pious than the next person. We seek forgiveness for our own faults and foibles, and so it is only fair and equitable that we forgive the same in others.
But like I said – it’s hard. And so why bother? If you are Christian and religiously inclined*, the answer may be, because Jesus said so. If you are not particularly inclined to read scripture, or are not a firm believer in Jesus as Christ (or you do believe, but it’s not terribly motivating for you), then why forgive? Why make the (sometimes Herculean) effort?
For me, the highest motivating factor is, honestly, quite selfish. I don’t miss the irony that my motivation to do something somewhat selfless is, nonetheless, selfishly motivated. So here it is: the reason I seek to forgive others is because I can then live in peace.
I’ve heard many, many people talk about how so-and-so isn’t worth their forgiveness, or that certain behavior is unforgivable. And while I have felt these things in my deepest heart, I know that in reality, they are not true. ANYONE can be forgiven. It might be hard AF, but that doesn’t make a feat impossible. And it is worth the effort because anger carried only hurts the person doing the carrying.
When you hold on to anger aimed at another person, it doesn’t actually impact that other person unless you vent it at them. I suppose this would be a different blog post if I was the type of person who is inclined to vent my anger directly to the source of my anger. I am not. I am the kind of person who would prefer to avoid that conflict, to avoid inflicting the agony of my own pain and discomfort on another person. I am the kind of person who does not want to impose my negative emotions on others because I dislike so strongly when others do it to me (I’m actually pretty good at holding space for negative emotions when they aren’t aimed at me.)
In order to avoid the conflict and also to protect myself from experiencing the behavior that has upset me in the first place, I often distance myself from the offender. I am happy to just put it all aside and forget about it. Because I know that with time and distance, I will no longer be angry, and I can avoid having all those nasty feelings while they are fresh.
There are two reasons I can see off the top of my head why this is not a great approach. Firstly, the “offending person” is still a human with a different perspective and feelings of their own. There may be a very reasonable explanation for why they are doing whatever it is that’s pissing me off. There may not be a reasonable explanation. But that person doesn’t necessarily know how their behavior is impacting me, and if I disappear off the face of the earth, they may wonder what is happening. And also, an argument could be made (in fact, has been made, many times) that we learn from our own negative feelings, and so they are worth picking through, if ever-so-carefully.
Sometimes life hands us a difficult situation where just walking away from someone isn’t a good solution. Perhaps you feel you really need something they have to offer. Maybe they are the parent of your child, or a business partner. Being legally bound to a person doesn’t make it impossible to walk away, but it makes it difficult. And this type of deeper relationship means that you are going to have a difficult conversation one way or the other. I mean, I suppose you could go on the lam, but I’m not the kind of person to do that, either. Not when there are real responsibilities involved like children, businesses, etc.
Of course I’m writing about all of this because I currently find myself in a difficult situation with a partner, and I have been avoiding a conversation for a couple years now. Longer than that, if I’m honest. But I’ve continued to stick around, so I haven’t put as much distance between myself and the relationship as I’d like.
Something they did recently put me over the edge – like, I. Can. Not. live with this situation any longer. And that means I need to alter the relationship pretty dramatically. Which makes me nervous. Which makes me want to just run away. Only I can’t.
So…time to put my big girl pants on and tackle this head on. Thus, my ruminating on the concept of forgiveness. It feels as if having this conversation BEFORE I forgive these trespasses will result in a bitter feud, which is not a sustainable reality for me. And so I am drawing on all of my emotional abilities to forgive this person. I wish for the resulting conversation to be peaceful and, if not enjoyable, at least not terribly unpleasant. Wish me luck.
*Of course, I recognize that there are many religions which espouse forgiveness as a virtue. I speak of Christianity only because that is the religion with which I am most familiar.