I’ve spent at least the last 6 years trying to really understand friendship, love, and forgiveness as an adult. Or maybe as a mom. This desire to understand was sparked by what happened with a friendship I believed I cherished but lost. In hindsight, I didn’t cherish it very well. And when it slipped through my fingers, I went through all the stages of grief and loss for that relationship.
We were both Christians and our families had been friends for years. She lost her babies and could no longer handle our already hard friendship and its unpredictability on top of that loss. I was newly postpartum with a 1 month old and didn’t understand. I felt both rejected and judged. For so long I couldn’t understand how she could write me off like that. I took her rejection as a scarlet letter and I lashed out, despite the fact that I had already unintentionally hurt her. I was postpartum and my insecurities and hurt overpowered any love that had been in my heart. And in retrospect, that desperation opened a flood gate. I prayed for years, begging God to understand what had happened. And in His infinite goodness and love, He gently opened my eyes over time, culminating years later in the most unexpected way.
One day I found myself in a position that forced me to walk away from a friendship I had struggled with for a couple of years. There were boundaries I had never set that had been crossed so many times and for so long, I didn’t even know where to start. Communicating became impossible with words that were constantly twisted and perspectives that felt like oceans apart. I now realize that I spent nearly everyday in debilitating fear of what she would think of every choice I made and just how unhealthy that was, but it took so long to see that.
Anxiety and depression creeped in slowly over time and seemingly easy, small tasks were overwhelming. I felt I was supposed to consider her and her family in every plan I made for my family and, when I failed to do so, I spent my time worrying about how she would react. I had convinced myself that as a loving Christian, I had to be wholly inclusive and that meant never leaving her out of anything. I felt selfish and inconsiderate when we did things as a family without considering her and hers. Until one day it was all too much.
When a day came that we decided on a new home with more bedrooms for our family of 5 in a nearby town, which we had talked about moving to for about 10 years (and was where our kids were already attending school), my already unstable friendship unraveled. Panic set in that I was moving too far away and she rebelled. She was going through a grieving process after losing a parent and in the middle of some hard things I was working through in my marriage and as a parent, I could no longer handle the extra attention our relationship required. She lashed out and accused me of lying to her when I withdrew in an effort to create room to breathe and I had to make the difficult choice to walk away.
I know I let things go too far by ever handing anyone that much control and I learned so much from that experience. I suddenly saw how hard of a friend I was years earlier to the one who felt she had to walk away from our friendship. I was forced to stop telling myself that it was a story of denied forgiveness and acknowledge the reality of my part. I learned what friendship is and isn’t and it’s taken me years to see that forgiveness is something humans don’t understand well or easily.
I believe forgiveness and love have been massively misunderstood and even redefined by our culture. This is why people are constantly proclaiming their realization of what forgiveness is or is not. Like how it isn’t forgetting what someone has done, but rather not letting their actions or words destroy my heart. That’s very true. But it’s so much bigger than that and that’s such a self-righteous perspective.
The thing is, forgiveness is actually way more introspective than that. It’s remembering how massively flawed I am first and that I don’t deserve forgiveness at all, for anything, AND THEN handing it out, without reservation, because the only perfect person ever (along with probably many other imperfect people in my life), has already forgiven me in all of my imperfection. True forgiveness is never dependent on anyone else’s words or actions. It’s a refusal to hold onto something I have no right to hold onto. And what is even more misunderstood is what that looks like.
Forgiveness can take several forms. It can look like moving forward together in grace BUT it can also look like walking away in grace. For so long I didn’t understand that the ending of a relationship can be forgiveness, too. When too many lines have been crossed and there are no longer any words, walking away from a toxic relationship is forgiveness as long as the bitterness doesn’t come with you. But that’s also an everyday battle. Some days there’s peace and love for the people who will only ever be in my past (whether by my choice or theirs) and some days I remember my hurt and anger and it creeps back into my heart.
As a flawed human being I know I don’t have all the answers, but I whole-heartedly believe God has taught me this over the past several years. Forgiveness cannot be defined in 140 characters or even a thousand words. It is so many things all in one and the more I seek about it, the more I learn. I have learned that it’s an everyday choice to keep letting go and moving forward on a better path. And it is also acknowledging that God is an entity of impossible healing, and we never know what the future holds. Hearts can in fact change and with Jesus nothing is truly irrevocable. Space and time can heal all wounds (though the scars usually remain) and broken things can be mended, but first we must keep letting go and leaving it at the foot of the cross day after day after day.