When Stan and I were dating and engaged, I had a girlfriend that I was really close with…so close, in fact, that I asked her to be my maid of honor. We had a very strong connection and shared really deep things with each other. But, she had a tendency to let me down. The majority of the times that we made plans with each other, I would show up to the meeting place (usually a restaurant) and wait and wait to have her never show up or answer her phone. It hurt. I felt dis-regarded and dis-respected and completely un-loved. Every time I thought about sitting down with her and having it out, I would think of these verses: Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21, 22 NIV) So, I would forgive her and make plans with her again just to have her stand me up yet again. I was stuck…I felt like I had to keep forgiving her but she was chipping away bits of my self-esteem every time I let her treat me as though I didn’t matter. Eventually, I decided that we needed to have a talk about it. When I told her “I think we need to have a talk…” she cussed me out at the top of her lungs in a public setting. That was it. I haven’t spoken to her since or kept contact in any way…that was 12 years ago.
It was hard for me to cut this friend out of my life because we were connected on so many levels. But, while we are to forgive people when they hurt us, what I didn’t realize was that forgiveness doesn’t mean what I thought it did. See, I thought forgiveness meant leaving something behind you and seeing the person for who they are…this was my friend…a girl that I loved deeply…someone that I shared intimate conversations with…I didn’t want to be at odds with her. But forgiveness does not mean allowing someone to practice evil against you. In fact, I think that when we allow a friend to continue in sinful and damaging habits, we are not being their friend either.
I think forgiveness has to do with our posture before God and actually has nothing to do with the other person. There are two sides to this posture: There is the side that is humble and wants to put forgiveness, grace, and mercy into action and there is the side that needs to see others and the self as the beautiful creation of the Almighty…an image-bearer who deserves basic human decency and respect simply because God saw fit to create us. See, I had the first part of this with my friend…I was being humble and wanted reconciliation and forgiveness to occur. What I was lacking was the self-respect to require that I be treated as a creation of God. As someone who has been through abuse-patterns in the past, this has been the area that I have always struggled with…the seeing the self as important enough to not allow mistreatment…not doing the pendulum-swing so that I see myself as all-important…but finding a healthy balance with an accurate self-view.
To many of you, this probably seems like common-sense…but to many of the people that you love, it isn’t. (Statistically, one in four women have been in abusive relationships in the United States. Incidentally, men can also be in very abusive relationships as well…it happens less frequently but also tends to carry even more shame with it.) The really weird thing is that to the random observer, I would have come off as cocky, if anything. That was how I protected myself. People really thought that I was secure and had no doubts about myself at all. I still go into this mode when I begin to feel overly-vulnerable to someone who might misuse it.
I see relationships like everyone is in a go-cart. There is always that jerk-face who wants to rattle your teeth by slamming into unsuspecting people with as much force as possible. There are the people who refuse to get into the car at all and prefer to watch from the sidelines…occasionally getting a glimpse of what is going on, but not knowing how it feels to participate. And then, you have the people who want to go fast and feel the speed but not damage people more than is absolutely necessary…these people will look for open spaces to accelerate and will try to turn, brake, and lessen the blow when they are going to run into someone else.
I think we need to see accurately which go-cart driver (or non-driver) we are and also what kind of drivers are around us. Are you surrounded by the jerk-faces who take joy in knocking the wind out of you? Are you surrounded by people who stay on the side-lines? (Because that could mean that you are the person who knocks the wind out of others.) Are you the person who is cultivating healthy relationships that are allowing everyone to take part and have fun in a beautiful way? I’ve spent many years in the position of the two dysfunctional drivers (or non-drivers) and only in very recent years have I learned to be the one that takes risks but doesn’t destroy those around me. There is a balance to it…and it takes a lot of work to get from the extremes to the moderate, healthy place…at least in my experience. So, where are you? If you aren’t in the healthy place, what steps can you begin to take to move toward a better place?