The year after I graduated from college, I dated a guy – I’ll call him Joe. It was a messy situation. He had a girlfriend at the time and just couldn’t seem to break off his relationship with her. I realize as I write this that I make him sound like a jerk. But he really wasn’t. He was just one of those people who could never bring themselves to ripping off the band-aid… Those people whose lives are prolonged agony because they just can’t ever make a hard decision. And it was a hard thing; his girlfriend was his sister-in-law’s sister. ugh… Anyway, we dated on and off for nearly a year.
Now, I’ve got to own it. I should have put the brakes on it at the start. And, of course we tried that “we’ll just be friends for now.” But that never really works when you’re romantically inclined. I suppose I just didn’t realize how much frustration and anxiety were building up in me until the day, in a heat of anger, I sat down and wrote a letter to his other girlfriend. She had been suspicious and I confirmed all of her suspicions. I let her know where we had gone on dates, how long we’d been seeing each other, etc. It was brutal. I just sang like a canary. But, as soon as I dropped it in the mailbox, I felt sick with regret. That evening Joe came to pick me up for a date and I knew I had to tell him what I’d done. He was devastated and utterly shocked. And, obviously, that was the end of our relationship.
For months after, I was plagued by the guilt of what I’d done. Should I have ended the relationship? Absolutely! But not the way I ended it. It was cruel and, frankly, I was shocked that I had done such a thing. It was out of character and made me mistrust my own trustworthiness… if that makes sense.
Two and a half years later, Britt and I met and eventually began to date. And those self-doubts were still plaguing me. They were like a lodestone I drug around with me wherever I went. About one month into dating Britt, one day my phone rang. It was Joe. He was just calling to see how I was doing. Our conversation was gracious and pleasant. After a while, I knew I had to tell him that I was dating Britt. I didn’t want our conversation to be misleading. He said he was happy to hear that. We hung up and haven’t spoken since. But that day’s call made such a difference for me. Now, he never said, “I understand why you did what you did and I forgive you.” He didn’t need to. But I knew, instinctively, that he did forgive me and there was something about his forgiveness that allowed me to release that lodestone of self-doubt. As Britt and I embarked upon our relationship that would lead to marriage, Joe’s call set me free of my burden and my baggage.
Resentment, anger and judgment are so toxic. But forgiveness and grace bring us new life. Resentment, anger and judgment tear us apart. But forgiveness and grace knit us back together again.
Social philosopher Hannah Arendt writes that “forgiving is an eminently personal affair in which what was done is forgiven for the sake of who did it.” In other words, forgiveness considers the value of the other person irrespective of what they have done. Now, that is not to say that we should allow ourselves to be other people’s doormats. We all deserve to be treated with dignity. But it is to say that we must find a way to get past our feelings of hurt and blame; to get beyond seeing the other person as some horrible villain and be able, once again, to see them as a beloved child of God.
For more reflection on how grace and forgiveness offer us new life, check out my sermon at: https://youtu.be/J7FWKmDEIDU The link goes lives on March 22 at 6 a.m.
Listen to recent sermon podcasts at http://www.trinitylafayette.org/sermons and check out my new book, Companions on the Journey: Foundational Spiritual Practices at https://wipfandstock.com/companions-on-the-journey.html or view links on my home page