I watch Oprah sometimes. Who doesn’t, right? She hosts famous authors and celebrities, interviews sex offenders and other criminals, gives away cars and trips to Australia, likes dogs, reads books and is generally not a bad way to pass the hour while I workout. So I was at the gym a few weeks ago and I was watching her show while I was running on the treadmill. I don’t remember what the show was about but she was talking about forgiveness. And I was ready to scoff. I was ready to write her off. Sometimes she gets a little fluffy, a little woo-woo (as my friend, Brianna, would say), and I can’t help but shake my head and roll my eyes. Forgiveness is (supposedly) what Christianity is all about. I know all about forgiveness. But I found her definition intriguing. And I’ve been pondering it ever since. Here’s what she said:
“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.”
At first I thought, no, there’s a lot more to it than that. But is there? The more I think about it, the more it resonates. Regardless of the situation, this definition works pretty well. It’s more about the offended person than the offender. It’s empowering for the offended person. They choose to release that hope and move on, regardless of whether the offender apologizes, sees the error of their ways, or wants forgiveness in the first place. They might continue in relationship with the offender. They might not. But it frees them and enables them to move forward.
I have a relationship in my life that has been troubling me for some time now. There have been unmet expectations and hurt feelings for both of us over the past few years. We have usually done so unknowingly but it has been painful nonetheless. I started noticing several months ago that I was no longer able to be myself around this person. I didn’t want to be vulnerable with her in any way and I was no longer able to see her as the good, kind person that I know her to be. I questioned her motives and her sincerity. No matter what I inwardly told myself about her good character, I was unable to break out of this pattern of cynicism and frustration with her. I was entrenched in this behavior and unsure how to disengage, give her to benefit of the doubt, and move forward in my friendship with her.
So I talked with Jason about it one evening last week. He listened attentively, proclaimed that “females are complicated!” (true enough), and said that he was stumped. It didn’t seem a good idea to sit down and re-hash all the layers of hurt with this friend, lest we injure one another more. So all that was left for me was to move on. But how was I supposed to do that? I still wanted a friendship with this person. I wasn’t about to walk away from her or phase her out. But I just couldn’t seem to crack the cyclical patterns of interaction with her. I was behaving out of memory, out of remembrance of past wounds and pain. And then I remembered Oprah’s definition. Oh, Oprah. Wise Oprah. Maybe she was right. Maybe I needed to give up the hope that my relationship with my friend in the past could be any different? Maybe I needed to let go of those hopes I held on to so that I could proceed with freedom in our friendship today? Yes, that sounded good.
Alright, I had a plan. I was going to forgive her. Novel concept. But how would I know if I had actually done it? Was it enough to just think it. Did I need to say it out loud? Tell someone else? Write it down? And how would this actually change my behavior with her? I needed something tangible. So I sat down during the boys’ naps the next day and thought through the various ways I felt injured by this person. This was unpleasant and surprisingly painful. But necessary, I think. I decided to write each hurt onto a post-it note.
Then I folded them up and took them outside. I scooped up a handful of sand to add some weight and to symbolize all the little details over the past several years in my relationship with this person. I held them for a few minutes and felt the weight of them.
I’ll admit that I felt mildly silly doing this out in our backyard, amidst the slackline, the hammock, the various toys and what not. But I felt freer afterwards. Lighter somehow. And when I called this person the next day, I felt lighter still. I had let go. I was free. Free to move forward in genuine friendship with this woman, free to once again be curious about her and what she is experiencing, no longer bound by my own pain and bitterness over unmet expectations. I’ll no doubt feel tempted to slip back into the comfortable, protective position I’m used to taking with her, but when I do, I’ll look back on this little exercise and remember that I let my hopes for the past slip through my fingers so that I could walk forward with her and enjoy many years of friendship to come.