Four years and two weeks ago, my little world was torn in half. A secret was revealed that changed my life for good, and caused me to question what I thought I knew about friendship, love, and human nature. This sounds incredibly dramatic, and it was, not so much because of the circumstances themselves, but because I was young, passionate, and, in many ways, very naïve.
Up until that point, I had never experienced the kind of relational destruction that was about to take place, and I had no idea what to do, how to process what had happened, or what to do next. It wasn’t until today, when I realized how many years had passed, that I recognized just how unprepared I was, and, therefore, how long it took to heal.
I have spent years trying to figure out how to forgive a wrong I just can’t forget. I have tried putting myself in the other’s shoes, but when you can’t understand them, this doesn’t work. I have tried just pretending I had forgiven (fake it ‘til you make it), but I’m not that good at self-deceit. For many years I had such internal fog when it came to those days, that event, that I couldn’t even discern coherent thoughts, much less conjure up the virtuous spirit that would allow me to look beyond my experience, my pain, and forgive. I had spent years in church being told why one forgives, but no one had ever told me how. How? how could I forgive someone when the mention of their name still stabbed like a knife? What does forgiveness even mean when your heart just won’t cooperate and you can’t let go?
I still don’t know the answer. All I know is that I don’t feel that way anymore. Somewhere over the course of the years, forgiveness and love crept back in. I am no saint (sometimes I think I am barely a human), and there is much that happened four years ago that others will need to forgive me for someday, but today I find that years of intentional and difficult spiritual growth changed my heart when I wasn’t looking and I am no longer waiting to forgive. At some point, I was already able.
And so I am beginning to feel that forgiveness isn’t an event, an accomplishment one can check off their to-do list and move on from. That’s what I wanted, and was expecting. I wanted a moment I could look back on and say, “Now I have Forgiven!” But my heart is fickle and easily injured, its pride frequently bruised, and in these moments the old hurts come flooding back, replacing any sense of growth with the same old pain, and making a fool of me and my “moment” of forgiveness.
If forgiveness isn’t an event or decision after all, but is instead much more like many other emotional or spiritual states in its maturation, then growth means living more often in the good, the virtuous, the loving, the kind—ultimately, the Godly—parts of who you are, and that moments of anger, hatred, cruelty, selfishness, or self-pity occur less often and pass more quickly. This isn’t the sort of lightening bolt change I was hoping for, but it is familiar, it is how God seems to work with me.
If this is true, then my quest for forgiveness was thwarted because I was looking for the wrong thing. I was after a moment’s decision that would mean permanent change, and instead I just got more tangled in the intricacies of the human heart. Typical.
And yet, four years is not so very long, and learning that forgiveness might be bigger and more complex (and more grand) than I was expecting, might just be worth the wait.