Beloved, you will find that in this life, you will often be called upon to provide others with absolution. They will come to you, either truly contrite or else out of obligation or duress. They will either offer a specific apology, quite clearly aware of the hurt or the slight they’ve inflicted, or else they will say they are sorry you misunderstood their intent, implying they do not intend to assume responsibility for whatever they did that upset you. This latter is called non-apology, and non-apology is a semantic labyrinth; if you are not careful, you will find yourself at a loss as to who should be doing the absolving.
This will only exacerbate the offense.
The act of pardoning should always give you pause. To exempt someone from the fallout of their actions is a weighty, unwieldy thing. It can be like offering to clean up after the volcano whose lava has obliterated the homes of your family. It can be like deciding to keep as a pet the pit bull that bit your baby. Neither the volcano nor the dog knows the destruction it has left in its wake. Neither the volcano nor the dog can comprehend the acts of apology or absolution. To forgive, then, means nothing to the offender.
This does not mean forgiveness will always be difficult. After all, the person in a position to forgive holds the cards, holds the keys, holds the power. She has everything to gain and nothing to lose. And so, initially, you will feel quite like a royal raising her scepter: All is forgiven; your debt has been cleared. Go forth and offend no more! And you will feel quite emptied and cleansed by the act of it.
See, it is rarely that first offense that is challenging to forgive. It is rarely the second that singes us when memory reignites it. It’s that seventh insult; that fifteenth incident of neglect; the third lie or the ninth or the twenty-seventh. It is the arrogance that allows your offender to believe himself exempt from apology. Or the strangely righteous indignation that seeks to insist that you are, in fact, the offender and any anger you feel is your fault.
These are the conditions under which bitterness best takes root. These are the conditions under which forgiveness seems nearly impossible to impart.
At this point, you are likely wondering why anyone would continue to offer her company to the type of person who would offend her thirteen or thirty times. She wouldn’t, unless her ties to him were essential. She wouldn’t unless, for every offense she could number, there were five rescues, three gifts, ten acts of love.
In my life, this has been the case, exclusively, with family. Their slights hurt more than anyone else’s, their investment in and hope for my success far greater than anyone else’s. They can give so generously with one hand and then take so cavalierly with the other.
The past year, in particular, held more than its share of offense. And I have struggled more than usual to excuse it. To ensure that this new year holds none of the hurts of the last, I have been reading about forgiveness—or more specifically about counterfeit forgiveness. Apparently, counterfeit forgiveness is defined by five distinct characteristics: stoic numbness; minimization; psychoanalyzing the offender; holding one’s breath emotionally; or being an overachiever.
I am guilty of four of these things.
I spent much of your first year, either numb, minimizing, excusing someone’s psychological damage, or sucking up all that I should’ve been letting out. I said I was okay when I wasn’t. I said things were no big deal, when they meant everything. I complied with my offenders’ need to “just drop it and move on.”
Your second year has already been different. I have learned to lay the axe at the root of offense. I have stated, in no uncertain terms, that I am displeased. I have refused to be baited into unnecessary conflict.
One can never truly argue who argues alone. Daughter, we have so much ground to gain and to recover. I have no energy to expend on assuaging the bruised egos of others. I cannot afford to entertain every hurled accusation, every thinly veiled aggression, every insidious rumor. If I did, I would become like a cursed fig tree, small and shriveled, unable to grow.
These declarative statements have been a step, but they are not yet true forgiveness. That will take a bit longer this time. But I will acknowledge the lava, will hold its magma ‘twixt my fingers. I will cry out to God and ask why. I will cry out again when I have allowed myself the time to grieve, accept, and understand.