The Comfort of Offense

Teenage girl disaster survivorHave you ever wondered why, after forgiving someone, the thought of them, the sound of their voice, the mere mention of their name can set off a chain reaction of negative emotion and stinking thinking ad nauseum? Sometimes, it can get to the point of having conversations in your head … you know the kind … the things you wished you would have thought of when you were first offended. The kind of conversations where they never get a word in and you are always the victor … oh, and you have some doozies ready – just in case. If we’re being honest, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? We have all planned out our vengeful little schemes in our fantasy world. Oh sure, we forgive, but there is no way we’re going to forget. We can’t! It’s just not wise … they may do it again. For some people, the down side of forgiving and forgetting is that  you can’t stack up the incidents of offense against you if you’ve forgotten them. Forgetting those offenses would mean that everyone who has ever hurt you gets a clean slate each time. Preposterous!

Listen, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about the the guy in the elevator who steps on our new Manolo Blahniks. He didn’t mean it. He apologized profusely. Besides, he’s a guy, what does he know about shoes. It’s not like we have a relationship with him. Hating this guy would be a waste of energy….right?

I’m talking about when our best friend divulges one of our most embarrassing secrets publicly at a gathering.We get angry, hurt, embarrassed, maybe even mortified! We try and shake it off; we rationalize about why she did it … too much wine perhaps? She later approaches us with her head held down in shame – she’s betrayed a confidence and ridiculed the one person she loves most in the world. She’s too ashamed to even expect forgiveness. We forgive her, but secretly we tell ourselves, “I’ll never forget what she did to me. I’ll never get over that humiliation.” And we don’t.

Each time we see her, things seem a little more back to normal. We feel magnanimous about our ability to forgive. What a good friend we are to forgive that kind of indiscretion.

Months pass by and we have another secret. We’re about to call her when we remember what we promised ourselves. We said we’d never forget! We forgave her, but the wound never quite healed. Every time the opportunity to prove to her that we really did forgive her came along, we picked at the scab and it bled. After a few years, though the scab finally healed, there remained an indentation – a scar. This is the place where the pain lives and thrives – where the pain has become a monument to what once was a flourishing friendship. We re-hash and re-hash until the offense has taken on a life of its own – it’s called unforgiveness. Our life, the one we once knew – the vibrancy of life – has been ebbing away. We are slowly being gobbled up in a bed of quicksand. Everything we do to rescue ourselves only sinks us deeper in the mire.

We think that if we allow ourselves to forget the past, we are condoning it. That is not the case. Erecting a monument to pain is a slow suicide. After a while, people don’t want to be around the person who is always rehashing the same old same old. It’s unhealthy. It’s like drinking a poison tonic and expecting everyone to take a sip. We end up hurting ourselves more than that friend originally hurt us and we blame it on the very person we said we forgave.

Eventually, we’ve done such an outstanding job of never letting anyone forget we’ve been offended that people know our stories by heart. Some of them actually begin to feel sorry for us and that – pity – is the anchor of offense. That is what perpetuates the pain and gives it life.

So, we meet some one new. A new friend. We have a lot in common. But there is something about her that we just can’t put our finger on. Maybe she sounds like, looks like, or has a habit like our old friend. Suddenly, everyone we meet who reminds us of the pain we’ve been tending to will end up making us run our fingers over that spot again. We don’t even know what’s happening. At some point, we might even become so hypersensitive about our own pain that we don’t even recognize when we do the same thing to others – we become self-centred. We take comfort in our pain. It becomes a blanket that keeps us warm when we no longer trust anyone else.

Forgiving without forgetting is like trying to strain play dough through a colander. It isn’t meant to be. I’m not saying it’s easy. I confess to you that I have stacked upon stacks of many offenses that I have nurtured over the years but you know something, it is bloody exhausting and leads to physical, emotional and spiritual illness of untold proportion. We can’t do this alone. It’s much bigger than we are. We need to realize first all that we have been forgiven for – our indiscretions and our sins – wiped clean as far as the east is from the west.

Forgiving and forgetting is not something we do for others, we do it first for ourselves to restore our health, our sanity, and primarily to maintain and grow in our relationship with God.

“But if you do not forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and wilful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.”  Matt. 6:15 AMP.

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