I’ll admit: I have my share of faults, mistakes, and failures…and more often than not, I find myself on the side that has to apologize. And more than likely, you’ve found yourself there as well. It’s a lonely place to be. When I’ve done wrong, I hurt someone that I love. I did something that caused them some kind of grief. Maybe they misunderstood…or I did. Maybe I failed to do something. Maybe I lacked proper priorities. Maybe, it was a bad judgment call. Or it could have just been a personality clash…where things just didn’t click. Or it could have been a combination of all of those things. Whatever the reason, whatever I did caused the other person to get mad, upset, or frustrated….and that puts things on ice. Things get pretty cold. Responses get short. You avoid eye contact. You become distant. Walls go up between both of you. Tempers flare up for even the slightest annoyances. And I usually find myself walking as if on very thin paper.
And that’s where I find myself today. Because I hurt someone. I’m on the side that needs forgiveness, the side that must ask…or maybe even beg…for forgiveness. But I also find myself on the other side of that equation: the one that must also forgive. Why? Because I am waiting for forgiveness…and haven’t received it…yet. And being in this position…I’ve found that there are two things that are the hardest to do in forgiving someone: Letting Go and Embracing Them.
When someone hurts you, the first response is usually some form of “You did this! This is your fault!” The walls come up, distrust comes up, defenses and coping mechanisms come up…and everything wrong that they’ve ever done comes back to memory. It’s as if we packaged up their fault into a box, put their name with bright lights on it, carry it around, and show it to them every moment we can…just to spite them. Grudges are heavy packages, aren’t they? But we carry them. Maybe it’s because we want someone to take responsibility for the hurt that we feel. We want someone to blame for the pain that we now have. We want justice! To get back at them! To get even! We want them to apologize! Why aren’t they hurting the way I’m hurting? Why don’t they understand? Do they even care?
Put down that package of pain…and then let go of it. It’s difficult; especially when no resolution is in sight, when “I’m sorry” is nowhere near, when your pain is met with silence, when no reconciliation is possible. When Christ was hanging on the cross, one of his last petitions was, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Forgive whom? Was it just the Roman soldiers who had no idea who this Jesus was? How about the Jews…who also didn’t really know who he was and called for his crucifixion? The interesting part about this was that when He asked the Father to forgive them, it meant that Christ had already forgiven them….and was now inviting the Father to do likewise! Even though he was falsely accused, brutally treated, betrayed by friends, and publicly humiliated and executed, Jesus knew that no one would apologize to him at all. Still, he forgave them, and he invited God the Father to forgive them, too. There was no grudge held, no anger or malice even after all that he suffered. When there was no reason to forgive, he still did…and invited others to do so as well.
Letting go of our grudges and our pain is difficult. Maybe, it’s because we want to remember the fault. But we don’t have to live, carrying those pains. Letting go is the first step in restoring our relationship of trust with the one who hurt us.
A hole will not go unfilled: letting go is not the only part of forgiveness. Letting go frees us to do another hard thing: welcoming the one who hurt us with open arms. It’s a way of saying, “Come. I know you’ve done me wrong, but we can work this out.” It doesn’t mean that what they did was acceptable to you. Rather, to embrace someone means that you love them more than their offense. You fill up the hole that was created when you let go of the offense…with the person instead. It tells them that although they broke your trust in them, you’re willing to “open up” again….and give them a second chance. To open yourself up again, after being hurt….that takes quite a bit of strength. Wisdom helps us discern between abuse and a mistake. Imagine yourself as a child, standing in front of your mother or father, being scolded because you did something wrong. Then, imagine their voice and face softening, their arms opening up, and then hearing the words, “Come.” Would you run to their embrace, relieved and comforted? Would you want to do better? That is the idea behind the embrace. It is the merciful step of restoring our trust with another. It is still up to them to complete that “circle” of trust.
Forgiveness is an act of faith with the other person…both in letting go and in the embrace. Faith is what I would call a “Relationship of Trust” you have with another, and when you forgive, you begin the process of restoring that trust, that faith. You begin to rebuild a bridge on top of that gap that they created, on top of the broken-ness of it all. At the same time, you open your heart wide open (albeit cautiously, sometimes) to lovingly receive the other person back into your presence and, most importantly, invite them back into your heart. Does it mean that you accept the wrong that they’ve done? No. You’re just giving them a chance to be right with you again, to make it up to you…and you’re giving them a “safe” environment in you for them to do so. It means that they, while in their shame, can approach you…and be safe in you…while they work things out with you. And while they may never be able to completely repair the damage they’ve done…you, as the Forgiver, pardon them…and you welcome them back. You allow Peace to enter the relationship while extending a hand of help, of restoration, of love.
Forgiveness is difficult because it requires trust to rebuild a broken trust. It requires love to restore love. It requires us to let go of the fault, the hurt, the pains, and our pride. It requires us to extend mercy when we want justice upon another instead. It requires us to open our hearts and our arms in vulnerable love, knowing full well that we could be hurt again, but we do so because we want them in our presence…and they want to be welcomed in ours.
This is exactly how God the Father feels for us, which is why He sent His son, even Jesus Christ, to be His extension of mercy….to suffer in the Garden of Gethsemane for us, and ultimately, die for every single one of us. That is why He rose up in the third day…to allow all of us that chance to come back to His Father’s presence. We will all find ourselves kneeling and begging for Forgiveness from Him, eventually. What better time to learn how to forgive than now…with the people that we love…rather than in the presence of God, when it’s too late to learn! God not only wants each one of us to feel what He feels when we ask Him to forgive us, but He wants us to welcome others to our presence, just as we’d want Him to do to us.
And What About Me?
I have yet to be forgiven, I have yet to ask for it, and I still struggle with opening up. This kind of thing has happened before, and it’s just my insecurities getting the best of me that slow me down. I still struggle with faith…it’s my life’s struggle, but I have experienced the joy that comes when someone forgives you. So, I have hope in the promise of forgiveness. I just have to forgive them for not forgiving me just yet. It’s understandable, and there’s still work to do. Maybe, just maybe…this is the Lord’s way of teaching me patience, compassion, mercy, faith, love, hope, meekness…all in one fell swoop. I just pray that I’ll learn what I need to learn without messing things up further. Forgiving someone is not an easy path to cross…, and not an easy cross to carry…but true happiness is on the other side….with the one you’ve forgiven–and welcomed–by your side.
“Come…for the war is past, for friends at first, are friends again at last.” –Joseph Smith