We are encouraged from an early age to make friends. We are taught to share. To be nice. To not hit. To say nice things. To say sorry when we hurt someone’s feelings. As we get older and start school, our parents are a little more removed from our friendships and what goes with them. They aren’t there to tell us to apologize or say we can’t play with “so and so” anymore because she isn’t very nice.
As we age, we are responsible to manage our relationships and the challenges that we face. Some of us are taught that once someone does you wrong, they will do it again, so we shouldn’t trust them and we should walk away. Often that comes from our parents or others we trust that advise us to protect ourselves this way because they have gone through something traumatic and they are trying to save us from the same. My parents taught me not to hold grudges or to stay angry, so I didn’t really know any better and it made sense to me that staying mad just hurt me inside. I actually thought that was the way that the whole world worked.
As I got older I learned the reality that depending on the transgression, forgiveness is not always in your best interest. For instance, if someone sleeps with your husband, that doesn’t exactly fall into the category of “the friendship is worth saving”. No true friend crosses a line like that. In this case, we are talking about a different kind of transgression and protecting yourself is the smart thing to do in these cases.
When I was in my early twenties, I confronted a very close friend who had a very bad drinking problem. I told her that her behavior was damaging to her and everyone around her. If I stopped there, I might not have felt so bad about confronting her. However, I let loose with all of my inner frustration and told her that she needed to stop telling me how to run my life and to fix her own. Within a week I felt bad and apologized. Even though I was right about her behavior, my delivery was all wrong. I sent one letter of apology and over the next two years, I would send her an occasional gift to let her know I was still thinking of her and that I still loved her. After some time I gave up because I felt I had done all I could and if she couldn’t accept my apology there was nothing I could do.
About ten years later, Facebook provided people a way to get in touch with people we hadn’t seen or talked to in ages and one day I received a message from this long-lost friend. She was asking for forgiveness and invited me to go and visit her so that we could talk. This time, she was asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness for the things that she did that made me confront her. Forgiveness for not accepting my heartfelt apology and forgiveness for not realizing what a good friend I had been to her. I immediately, without hesitation, forgave her. No strings, no reservation, just forgiveness. I wasn’t even worried she would do anything like it again. I didn’t even guard my heart a little.
It never occurred to me to protect myself. I was glad to have the friendship back. I couldn’t imagine putting strings on it. It would be the smart thing to do, I suppose. I had to make a decision. Was I willing to risk the chance of getting hurt again in order to open my heart and love my friend freely and treat her like I do all of my friends? Of course! I had known her for years before our falling out. I knew her heart then. She was a loving soul who had trouble with alcohol. She put herself out there and asked for forgiveness. She needed my whole friendship.
She needed my whole love. If she hurt me again, I was strong enough to take it. If she didn’t, she got the full strength of my love and friendship. In the grand scheme of things, she needed my friendship and, as has always been my motto, you can never have too many people to love you.
How did it turn out? Eleven years later and even living across the country from each other, we are still friends and talk when we can and she would be there whenever I needed to talk. Had I not forgiven her, I would always wonder if I did the right thing. Now I don’t have to wonder. Forgiveness for another human being who is truly sorry is the best gift you can give yourself.