“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” ~ Lewis B. Smedes
Forgiveness and acceptance—can you have one without the other?
It has been quite the theme in the last year of my life. A seven year estrangement from my father gave way in the summer of 2009, and the process of healing wounds and moving forward began. It wasn’t easy to forgive him, but it was necessary. Before I forgave him it was a weight that I had to carry with me daily, even though I told people who were close to me that it wasn’t that I was still angry or upset, it was just that I didn’t want someone like him in my life.
Problem is, I found that blocking him out of my life was effecting my ability to forgive others. I was beginning to fear that my silence with him was making me cut and run from anyone who hurt me. I had a growing intolerance for any kind of apology, and started to resent my own lack of understanding and compassion with my friends imperfections. I was regretfully burning bridges, while good friendships waved frantically on the other side trying to put out the fires.
So, I made it my resolution to forgive.
I reconnected with lost friendships and started the long process of building back the bridges, hoping that they would still meet me halfway. It was amazing the weight that lifted from my shoulders. I found it easy to communicate my frustrations with others, and most of the time, our relationships grew stronger.
Still, forgiveness doesn’t change who someone is. Seven years without my father and I almost forgot who he was. When the waters calmed of our reunion, I saw deep down the same person that made me run all those years ago. I realized that I made forgiving him more about what was good for me, and not about accepting who he is. Reconnecting with my father was not just about forgiveness, it was also about acceptance.
Recently, I got an email from a woman who made the questions of acceptance and forgiveness arise again. We hadn’t spoken in years. A confusion in our friendship that turned into vicious portrayal of what women are capable of in the heat of the moment had me running literally out of the state of Colorado.
For some reason, I was born without the ability to make others feel small. I can’t give you a good comeback to an insult, or be that “mean girl” that cooly tears another woman’s life apart. This woman beat me down at a game that I was incapable of playing. That said, I’m thankful that I didn’t lower myself to that level, even though I couldn’t even if I tried.
In the end, I was shocked and hurt by the ability of a person to show such cruelty to what was once a good friend. I won’t get into details, but her actions were, in my eyes—and in many others—unforgivable.
After receiving her email, I stared at the words for awhile before starting to reply. “It’s Christmas” I thought. A time of forgiveness. She wasn’t apologizing, but just starting up casual conversation as if the past had disappeared. I thought of the weight I was carrying with not forgiving her, and then I thought of my father.
At what point does forgiveness turn into acceptance? Is it the same thing? Can we forgive but not accept? I looked at her casual message of insincere questions like “What cha been up to!?” and could only think to write one word.
“Nope.” I hit send.
I am not sure if it was the right thing to do. All I know is that sometimes when you see the true colors of a person and they hurt you so much that they are all that is holding you back, accepting them may be the exact opposite of moving forward. I hope that I can sincerely say that I forgive her. But, I cannot yet accept her.
In the last two years I have been able to surround myself with some amazing people. I have become friends with people I look up to and I think a large part of this is because of my own confidence. I feel that in my weakest moments, I friend people like the woman who sent me the email because I don’t think highly enough of myself to do any better. I see now that leaving her behind is not just forgiving her, but forgiving myself for getting to that point in my life.
Moving forward, shoulders and my spirit—weightless.