It’s never an easy thing–forgiveness. Especially in a relationship with your loved one. They always seem to be making the same annoying mistakes over and over. Forgiving the mistakes simply condones poor behavior. Right? We don’t think so.
I watch Oprah religiously. Like many, I’ve learned a great deal from almost every episode. I’m being serious.
Recently, Oprah hosted a show featuring Tyler Perry discussing his childhood experience with sexual molestation. Apart from the staggeringly sad topic, I found one sentence Oprah said to be extremely profound. In the context of encouraging victims to find their own path to healing, she shared that “forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past can be changed.”
Have you ever heard a more accurate definition of forgiveness?
Outside of the show topic, I began thinking about forgiveness in my own life and immediately realized that I’ve been forgiving in my own relationship the wrong way. In fact, I had never truly forgiven missteps, faults, harsh words, or short comings at all. I’d simple decided to give up on a wrong doing in an attempt to, first, make my husband feel better about his actions and, second, to not have to deal with the problem.
The result? I first became the woman who continued to bring up the wrong doing in the next argument – even when the new argument had nothing to do with the previous one.
“Oh! Oh really? Well YOU! YOU always belch and blow it in my face!” I’d say, for example. In reality, him belching and then blowing that belch in my face would really have nothing to do with the fact that the lawn hasn’t been mowed in a month. And we know that he doesn’t always do anything wrong or mean or annoying or rude … at least not as often as I complain he does.
When I made a conscious decision to stop bringing up past issues, I’d continue to let the issue fester. Then, anytime he did something, my reaction to that something was amplified tenfold because I was harboring all those other little things I’d supposedly “forgiven.”
The result? We all know. I’d appear completely irrational, ranting and raving about nonsense until he’d walk out of the room completely perplexed. “But I just wanted to know if you could make me a grilled cheese sandwich,” he’d say, for example.
It’s unfortunate that almost eight years into our relationship, it took an Oprah episode to pound the true meaning of forgiveness into my brain. Nevertheless, it happened. And I couldn’t be more thrilled that I’ve matured in my relationship as a result.
“I’m sorry I’m making you sit here and watch a half hour of Pardon The Interruption even though you really want to watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” he’ll say, for example.
And instead of throwing it out during the next argument, instead of saving up the irritation from the endless annoyance that is Tony Kornheiser, I will say “I forgive you.” And I will mean it. Because I will be okay with letting go of that hope that that instant could have involved me watching Kim reveal her lesbian love affair to the tabloids.
Religions have preached about forgiveness for millennia. There are a lot of different theories and sayings on forgiveness. Gandhi said, and I paraphrase, forgiveness is a quality of a strong individual. People have proclaimed that failing to forgive only hurts yourself, not the one who hurt you. Or that forgiveness is the sweetest revenge. Forgiveness is the letting go of hate and bitterness. Forgiveness allows you to grow beyond what you are. Forgiveness is forgetting the past. And on and on. People have pontificated and pleaded for us to accept the grace of absolution for ages. Yet it still seems to be something difficult for us all to fully grasp. Forgiveness is a very odd animal that seems to bring tremendous freedom and peace, but at the same time is an operose obligation. It makes sense that it would be difficult, especially when the act that breached your trust was devastating and repulsive. But what about the times when the breach of trust was miniscule? What about those moments when a friend or loved one erred to your detriment, but the outcome was not devastating?
To ask someone to exonerate a gross offense is one thing, but we are encountered with small instances that call for forgiveness daily and don’t oblige to compassion’s call. I can’t speak for everyone, although if I were a betting man, (and I am), I’d be willing to bet most of us constantly falter when clemency should be offered. Especially with our partners or spouses. I can’t tell you how many times my wonderful wife has said some seemingly insignificant thing or acted in some remote way that has caused me to be offended. If I took a step back to think about it, I am sure I’d learn more about myself from my reaction than I would learn about her from her action. Yet I regularly choose to focus on the words or action that hurt me, rather than take an introspective look at why I was offended. I simply respond with indignation, anger, dejection, or all three. I focus on the action of my partner and I need her to know why it was wrong. She has to understand how it offended me. I somehow have a distorted view that our relationship will grow if she understands why her action was wrong. It’s not hyperbole when I say that I have our relationship’s best interest at heart. Sure, sometimes it is simply anger spilling over. But often times I am simply thinking that those words or that action were unacceptable and not healthy for our relationship, so my wife should understand this. I’m sure most of are this way. We’re trying to help our relationships, not overtly tear them down. Except that’s exactly what we’re doing.
If I instead focused on my own reaction, I believe I would learn two separate and powerful truths. The first is a clearer understanding of why I was in fact offended. Maybe there is a small regret I haven’t dealt with and a nerve was struck. Maybe I have an old wound and that scab was slightly irritated by the comments. Maybe it was nothing meaningful at all. If I took a step back, though, and looked at my own reaction, I will most likely be more conscious of why I was upset in the first place. And this would be valuable for both my wife and myself. Understanding the root of my own reaction will help me better express it to my wife. Unfortunately, I fear most of the times that I am offended it is due to nothing meaningful at all. There was no profound realization. My wife’s comments or actions simply struck a nerve. I couldn’t believe she rolled her eyes at me. I am upset that she didn’t appreciate the fact that I shoveled the entire walk. I am stunned she would rudely brush by me when I’m frantically celebrating an Adrian Peterson touchdown. How could she?
This brings me to the second truth I would realize if I focused more on my own reaction than my wife’s initial action. My pride had been pricked. And pride is most often a polite way of saying arrogance. I likely have been offended because I feel that my beloved partner should never treat me like that. How could she? How dare she? Right? This reaction is simply arrogance. We all do it. We feel we deserve to be appreciated. We demand we be shown a certain amount of respect. And in one sense, we all do deserve it. We all deserve to be appreciated and respected. Except these aren’t monumental social injustices we’re talking about here. No one insulted our family lineage. No one gravely betrayed our trust. Most often, it’s a simple matter. This is our loving spouse or partner we’re talking about. Maybe our other halves shouldn’t have acted that way, but demanding to be appreciated and respected in these instances is simply arrogance. Our pride has been pricked and we won’t stand for it. This is not a healthy response. This is not forgiveness.
Take what you will from these muddled words. Forgiveness is a funny thing. The larger the transgression the more difficult the conciliation, yet the greater the peace and freedom on the other side of propitiation. However, forgiveness for menial slights should come naturally, especially with those we love. I think I’ll start focusing on my own reaction rather than my wife’s actions. I’m not excited to see the depths of my pride (read arrogance), but it’s the only way our relationship will grow. It’s the only way forgiveness will start to come naturally to me. Besides, she doesn’t understand Adrian Peterson’s greatness, so the celebration is wasted on her anyway.