Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Forgiveness

I have long lived with the understanding that forgiveness is a choice you make, rather than a feeling you hope for. Maybe that is why I thought it would be easy. You look someone in the eyes and speak the words and all is right with the world. Or maybe it’s because, for most of my life, I’ve had only small matters to forgive. Either way, I thought it would be fairly simple.

So the first time I encountered a real, grown up situation that tested my true aptitude for forgiveness, I had some unrealistic expectations.

A year ago, I said, “I forgive you.” Because you asked me to. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Because not forgiving didn’t seem like an appealing choice. Because I’ve been forgiven. Because it had to be better than the alternative. Because I knew that if I didn’t make a conscious decision, and instead waited for “a forgiving mood” to wash over me, I could be waiting forever.

It didn’t feel all that different from anger or pain. Not at first anyway. I wondered if I had done it right.

Someone told me forgiveness was a choice you had to keep making, an act of discipline, in a matter of speaking. Like exercise. Not easy, not painless, not an overnight cure. But productive and worthwhile. And I was promised I would see results one day. And so I made it my mantra.

Most days.

Six months went by, and I realized I no longer felt like throwing my cell phone at your head every time I saw you. It wasn’t like someone flipped the compassion switch on my heart. I just felt less. Less angry, less sad - less everything. I thought that meant my feelings had caught up to my words, and I was a little disappointed. I thought it would feel prettier, lighter… more like grace.

Now, a full year since I said those words, I find myself trying to define what it is I feel when I see you. I still don’t feel like launching projectiles at your head. I don’t feel angry. I don’t feel sad. But I don’t feel “nothing” either. Somewhere, with subtlety and stealth, a feeling has crept up on me that does feel like compassion and grace. It is light and lovely, and solemn and deep. It turns out, that’s what forgiveness feels like.

It feels like love.

Because it is.

It’s not to say that I couldn’t stir up those old feelings if I wanted to. Like resurrecting an old bad habit, its easier than not. Or picking at a scab. But I like this new feeling too much to give it up. And I really like my new cell phone. And, as you could expect with a year of consistent exercise, I find the discipline of forgiveness to be easier all the time, natural and fulfilling. A new habit. Like muscle memory in my heart.

People say, “I love you” all the time. And we should, undoubtedly. But it was three different words, the ones I said a year ago, almost to the day, that changed my life. In more ways than one.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are so smart, Girl. With age comes wisdom, with time comes grace. Love your blog!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Yeah... good description of how it feels to forgive. Just last night I was writing in my diary - thanking God for helping me to forgive someone! Someone who now has a baby girl...

Elizabeth said...

Thanks anonymous and anonymous, for the nice comments. If you don't mind, I'd love if you'd sign your name, I feel like I should maybe know who you are, but I'm not sure. Thanks all the same, and I understand if you do have something to say you prefer to keep private... otherwise, tell me hello!

~Shanna, McKenzie & Luca said...

Wow girl this is GREAT! I loved the part about how you didn't feel "nothing" but rather felt the compassion starting to stir within you! Hey are you going to church now? If so where? Hope you are doing good and all is well. It sounds like you are letting go of something and that must feel really good! Forgiveness really is for you just as much as it is for the recipient! ~ Shanna