Forgiveness is Work

Meadow Filled with Black-eyed Susans

#johnk. My buddy and I were kicking around the various malfunctions we suffer from/through with our kin. His Dad somehow picked up the “go away/come here” tactic of some women. It is a core belief of his that any relationship that feels like it is in “come here” mode will flip to “go away” mode right ricky-tick. So much so that he almost needs a friendship to swing between moments of closeness and moments of distance. He also talked about the substantial list of “‘spose to’s” that his brother has. His brother, then, spends a fair amount of time being frustrated because the world/people/God doesn’t come correct and do things the way they are supposed to. His family also seems to suffer from “last word” disease. This is where you can’t end any conversation with the other party unless they have the last word.
For my part I talked about our family believing that we know what’s wrong with you and that we also know what you should do, what you are supposed to do, to fix what ails you. We are quite sure that if you’ll do it our way everything will be fine. Also my Dad’s habit of saying something provocative for his own amusement at the rise he’s able to get out of you. I carried into adulthood a core belief that I was the sacrificial lamb that needed to die so the family’s sins could be atoned for. A sacrificial lamb who became a sheep who liked the color black and has an abiding suspicion of overarching orthodoxy. Tell me the price of friendship is adherence to your orthodoxy and I tend to want to fight about it. Becoming a disciple of Christ took some doing. I had a lot of forgiving to do.

The conversation came around to forgiveness. I’m all about mercy and compassion because it is what has kept me out of jail. If I don’t forgive, don’t remain merciful to my ex-wife, I probably would be in prison and she would be dead. My son would lose his mother and his father, one to the grave and the other to the prison system. My son’s Mom is alive and well and living in Henrico, VA because I made a practice of being compassionate.

My friend was struck by these words: “forgiveness is work.” I said it because as many times as I have forgiven my ex-wife and for all the years we have been apart, I still get triggered and find myself reliving old bitterness. I have to forgive her again, pray again, do the things I’ve done for fourteen years to keep my heart pointed toward Christ again. I’ve gotten better over these years. I can do this in seconds where it used to take me several hours. Still, I am never done with the work of being compassionate, of loving my enemies. Forgiveness is still work for me. I used to believe it was a one & done sort of thing. You said the words and it was over. You said, “I forgive you.” and the power of the egregious event is gone. Then I met my ex-wife, who has a remarkable talent for holding the emotional weight of an egregious event far longer than I thought was possible.

When we separated I found that it wasn’t enough to offer an apology once, to say I forgave her once. I still felt the hurt of our destructive relationship, separation and eventual divorce. I had to do it again, do the work again, so that I could stay spiritually healthy. It wasn’t a one & done sort of thing. I’m still working at it. So far, it doesn’t look like I’m done. I’m better at it than I was fourteen years ago. But stuff happens and the work I’ve done evaporates and I find myself repeating prayers I thought I’d finished with. Still, practice has made things better. Over the years there is less that truly unbalances me and I find it easier to rebalance and refocus on Christ. If there is any message it is that you shouldn’t give up if an ill wind blows apart your life and you have to repeat the work of being/becoming compassionate. Keep at it. Things do get better.