There are a lot of things I’m not good at. I’m not good at sports. (Consult any member of my childhood tee-ball team for proof.) I’m not good at math. I’m not good with driving directions. The list goes on and on for miles and winds back around again. I’m fine with the world knowing those things. I’m not particularly embarrassed about those inadequacies, although it would be nice to say I can do long division without a calculator.
I continually fail in another area of my life, and until recently, I’ve tried to tell myself that that’s not the case. I’ve done my best to brush it under the rug, burying it deep down where no one will ever find it. For years, I’ve tried to convince myself that it’s not really a struggle, but flipping through faded snapshots of past conflicts and heart wounds in my mind, there’s no use in pretending it doesn’t exist anymore. I’m not good at forgiveness.
Just like all the other things I’m not good at, the thing about forgiveness is: it’s hard. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and I’ve spent my life giving up trying instead of working to become better at it. Can you become better at forgiveness? Could I become better at forgiveness? It just seems like this inherited character flaw that’s such an ingrained part of my being. In the moments when I’ve tried to deny that it’s an issue, I’ve chalked it up to my sinful nature. We’re all sinners, I tell myself. This is just one of my “things.”
Holding a grudge is also my thing. I’m pretty good at that. Really good, actually. It’s not that I don’t want to move on from tough situations. I hate that I dwell on the pain other people have inflicted upon me. I would NEVER do that to someone is my go-to response when a person makes a decision that hurts my feelings. I immediately spiral into self-righteous anger, completely baffled that he/she didn’t do what I would have done. It’s a dark and dangerous path to go down, comparing my hypothetical actions to the real-life actions of someone I care about who’s hurt me. It only ever deepens the wound.
For almost a year, I’ve been withholding forgiveness from two people. I just haven’t felt ready. My relationships with them have dissolved, and, while it’s been painful, I know my distance from them has been the healthiest option for me. Neither person has asked for forgiveness because neither has ever admitted fault. HOW AM I EVEN SUPPOSED TO WORK WITH THIS? Isn’t forgiveness like this weird form of currency? Someone says “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?” and the other person responds, “It’s ok. Yes, I forgive you.” In my mind, it feels like forgiveness is a part of a transaction that can’t be completed unless it starts with someone asking for it.
Maybe that’s why I’m so reluctant to give my forgiveness away — because it feels like a currency, something valuable and precious and worthy of holding close to my heart. I tell myself that just giving it away wouldn’t be sensible. Instead, I grip it so tightly that my fingernails dig into my palms, clutching it with a force no one could break through to take — and that I could never allow myself to unfold and give freely. But I know that guarding it isn’t productive. Clenching my fistfuls of forgiveness isn’t helping anyone, and the person it’s hurting the most is me.
One of the best lines from MTV’s highly scripted “reality” series The Hills (Yes, I’m referencing The Hills. Only God can judge me.) is the finale of an intense conversation between Lauren Conrad and her ex-friend Heidi. Lauren ends it by saying “All there is left to do is forgive and forget. So I want to forgive you, and I want to FORGET you.” WHOA. It was like the most epic moment of friendship breakupness I had ever witnessed, and in this strange, embarrassing way, it resonated with me. If you hurt me, we either put it back together and make it like it was, or we become nothing. It’s fight or flight. We decide to fight for it or I fly far, far away. Am I proud of taking this approach on multiple occasions? No. But it’s often how I operate.
Shauna Niequist, one of my favorite authors and human beings in general, has this life-changing chapter in her book Cold Tangerines about forgiveness. She explains that forgiveness is not a one-time event. It’s not as simple as an isolated exchange between two people. It’s a process, and we all need help with it — some more than others. Here’s a bit of her wisdom:
“[Forgiving my friend] was like moving a piano all the way across the living room, and then waking up the next morning and finding that it’s back in the other corner, and I have to move it again. Every day I had to push that heavy piano all the way across the living room, even though I just did it the day before. It was like a full-time job, forgiving her over and over, with each new angry thought or bad conversation, but it was good work, like how good it feels to shovel snow or rake leaves in the cold air. And I keep letting her off the hook, because when I do, I can breathe again.”
— Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines
When I wrapped my head around that image of moving the piano, it completely changed my perspective on the act of forgiveness. No, I’m not good at it, but maybe I’ve been expecting too much of myself. Making the decision to forgive someone is difficult enough, but living it out on a daily basis without wavering is just impossible. No wonder I’ve given up so many times! Maybe I’ll be moving a piano for those two people for 1,095 days, but as long as I keep putting it back in its place, it’s good and meaningful work. It doesn’t make me a superstar of grace and kindness. It may not be the most efficient method. But it’s a realistic one with attainable results.
The thing about forgiveness is: it’s hard, just like most things that are worth our time and energy. It’s hard to give away, especially to people who don’t ask for it. It’s hard to offer unconditionally. It’s hard to put pride aside. But I’m at a point where I’d like to get better at it because it’s worth it. I want to breathe again, like Shauna. I want to extend grace to those who have hurt me, like Jesus first did for me. I didn’t deserve that. I didn’t ask for it. But he did it anyway, even though dying to make it happen wasn’t easy. I want to open up my palms, finger by rigid finger, and release what was never mine to keep
I understand that all of this probably makes me sound pretty awful. You might be asking yourself why anyone would ever want to be friends with me. Sometimes I wonder the same thing, but the only answer I can give is that I’m a work in progress. I have a closet full of skeletons I’m just trying to set free. I truly love my friends, and to those I’ve lost along the way, I trust that if God chooses to restore those relationships, He will.
I’m not perfect. I hope you can forgive me.