‘I forgive but I don’t forget’
It’s our instinct to protect ourselves. But sometimes what we think is protecting us is really the thing that kills us slowly, especially when it comes to our relationships. We tell ourselves that because we forgive and don’t forget that everything is okay. We record the drama, the disagreements and the betrayals, and replay them when we get reminded. I live(d) by that philosophy too, but earlier this year I started to question whether I was really 'forgetting'. I questioned whether it was really the right model for my sanity and whether I was truly being honest with myself.
Eventually, I realised that I needed to go through the process of letting certain things go, again.
‘Make the first move, make things right…[if not]… you will not get out until the very last penny’ - Matthew 5 (MSG and NIV merged).
Here, Jesus is talking to thousands of people about the risks of letting drama and disagreements drag on. We get so desperate for our point to be heard, that we pursue it at all costs. As I told you in last week’s private note, I enjoy my fair share of point-proving. But in Matthew 5 we start to see how expensive it can be. The (sometimes silent and other times public) frustration, anger and fall out spirals out of control, draining us of everything we have.
When the dust settles, we think we’re above it. Some days it’s easy to ignore what happened, but other times it’s much more difficult because when we get triggered those memories come rushing back. It can be so subtle that it creeps into other areas of our lives, making it difficult to engage in genuine friendships and relationships.
At that point, we have to ask ourselves - "have you really moved on?"
The answer might be no, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What matters is what you do next. We must make the first step to resolution, to get rid of every feeling of offence, because if it escalates we will be the ones left to pick up the mental, physical and emotional rubble. When you read the full section of Matthew 5, you see that in a disagreement there never really is a ‘winner’, so your fight to assert yourself is futile.
Understand what is at stake
It’s not always about forgiveness and making things right. Sometimes it’s about abandoning our desperate attempts to ‘prove’ ourselves, our innocence and our worth. Our human nature craves to be seen and understood, but the truth is not everyone will get it.
‘Don’t throw your pearls [your hopes, your naivety, your value] to pigs [people who are incapable of appreciating it]… if you do they may trample under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces’ - Matthew 7:1-6 NLT (inserts mine)
Usually, when things go wrong, we go into overdrive and subconsciously spend ourselves, our time, our money getting someone to see things our way. But there’s a limit. Sometimes the closure you’re looking for simply cannot be found, so don’t exhaust yourself, don’t flog a dead horse. Find the balance between making the first move and knowing when to stop. If you don't stop, the rejection you get will add to your frustration at the situation, the other person or yourself.
Sometimes you have to press pause. Learn to be okay with the limbo and remember that you are not the ultimate judge.
To kill, or to create?
I’m sure you remember something someone said that got under your skin, even if you hate to admit it. It could have been a family member, a teacher, an ex or even a friend who said on purpose or in passing. We know how cutting it can be and how much it influences how we see the world.
But we do it to others too, it's so easy to write someone off and make them ‘dead to us’. (This applies equally to what you say out loud, and what you say about others in your own head).
"I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. […] The simple moral fact is that words kill.” - Matthew 5:21-24 MSG
We’ve passed our final judgment, and it's either impossible for them to redeem themselves, or it will take a hell of a lot of work. They deserve it, they brought it upon themselves, they should have known better, right?
It amazes me how much we cling to the negative, instead of using the positive to eclipse it.
It amazes me how we focus on the things that hurt the most. The truth is, we can also use words to ease the process of letting go, that’s what has worked the best for me: reminding myself of people’s good qualities and trying to understand what made them behave the way they did. It calms the anger and (slowly) extinguishes the frustration. Lisa Bevere once called this ‘speaking to the princes’ in her husband and sons because just as words kill, they can also create.
I'm not suggesting that we put ourselves back in a compromising position, sometimes keeping a distance is the right thing to do. It’s more about clearing out the mental junk that gathers in our minds.
You’re no angel either
Finally, when we refuse to let go, we magnify the failings of other people. It’s easier than looking in the mirror and seeing our true selves, flaws and all. I love how the Message version puts it, so, so frankly:
"Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticise their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbour’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole travelling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbour" - Matthew 7:1-6 (MSG)
Maybe it’s time to start being honest about where your head’s at, because most of the time we’re in denial. We believe that we are impenetrable, but it’s a myth. Going through this process is not easy, but creating a life of direction, momentum and meaning never is.
Of course, there are many situations where healing and moving forward cannot happen overnight. It takes being honest with yourself, taking the right practical steps and getting the right people to support you. There are some gut-wrenching, life-altering violations and betrayals that make this process incredibly complex. What I do know is that we can all try, we can all seek help. If we don’t, we risk being trapped in a cycle that will only leave us in with less.