I woke up this morning to thick cloud cover. Not literally, we south westerners wake to blue skies most days. But the thick clouds I speak of have rolled in to settle over my heart. Ian owes me an apology. The why is not all that important. Except to say, He knows it. And I know it. And with the passage of time, the cloud cover has become more dense.
I left early in the morning before he was awake. A relief to both of us. And when I came home, the elephant was still in the middle of the room. Perhaps this large mammal has visited your home before. You know the one I mean — that obtrusive, obnoxious, uninvited, demanding elephant.
Ian and I exchanged polite pleasantries, but mostly avoided each other. We retreated to our corners giving that doggone elephant room to graze and fester. From my perspective, I don’t want to fight. I’m tired of fighting. I figure, if we just avoid the conflict, then it will diminish over time and eventually go away. That is not what is happening. The elephant, already enormous, is getting larger by the minute.
My self talk goes like this…. The ball is in his court. I’m right. He’s got to say something first. If he’s not ready to apologize well … I will just wait. Oh yes indeed. I will wait. I thicken my skin and bolster my resolve and give myself the pep talk needed to keep right on waiting. I’ll wear him down. He’ll need a ride, or some help and when he does… I’ll make him pay. Sure… I will wait as long as he wants.
As I try to move on with my day… the damn elephant keeps getting in my way. My energy seems low, my creativity gone and my mood awful. I’m especially annoyed that the elephant seems to have chosen sides. Ian seems completely oblivious.
In the deafening quiet of my thoughts, I realize that I’ve seen this movie before starring other people I love. While I believe there are offenses we can forebear and personal frustrations we can overcome, interpersonal conflict doesn’t go away with inattention. It smolders. It deepens. It curdles. Without any intention, I discover I’m coddling the elephant.
Somewhat exasperated, I pick up my bible. Before cracking it, I pray “Father, I need you to intervene. I’m a mess and it seems as if my idea to fix the mess has created a bigger mess. Please cause Ian to soften.”
I’m probably wrong, because it doesn’t seem God-like, but I think I heard the Lord giggle. Please tell me I’m not the only one who has prayed, sincerely I might add, for someone else to change. Regardless, He got my attention. It felt as if I was laying exposed on a surgical table. Ok God, do it. Rip off the dressing. Cut out the decay. Apparently there is no other way… I need your surgery.
I was alert now. Listening. Somewhat tense, as if preparing for ensuing pain. But it didn’t come. There was no pain. God in His mercy seemed to be rubbing salve on my open and softened heart. In that moment, I felt loved and forgiven. I WAS loved and forgiven. God and I were communicating now… “But God, the elephant is still in the room! I don’t want to fight with Ian or sweep it under the carpet either. Doing so, would just condone more of the same.”
I didn’t get an answer. But when I stood up, oddly, I felt able. Not light headed, or weak or even vulnerable. There was no neon sign, or audible word. But I could tell things were different. I was different. It wasn’t new revelation, but a familiar thought consumed my attention — All conflict is an opportunity for grace.
God has extended me grace. Oh my… Has He ever extended me grace! And it was that reminder that empowered me to do the same. I didn’t have to feel like it. Ian didn’t have to deserve it. It didn’t even demand Ian’s cooperation. Forgiveness is a solo act of obedience.
It took less than thirty seconds. I approached Ian’s corner and said…. “Ian, I forgive you. Your unkindness stirred up ugliness in me. And for that I am sorry. I love you. Can we please move on?” And with that the floodgates opened. “Oh mom, I am so sorry. You didn’t deserve it. I know I take it out on you. It’s just that…. Thank you for all you do. Really mom, thank you. You are the best. I am really sorry.” Shocked by his gushing, I wish I had recorded it. We hugged. There was no stiffness or obligation. Clean slate. New life. And as if it was a supernatural magic act, the enormous elephant vanished into thin air.
Forgiveness is not easy….But, it is simple.
I stewed for 48 hours nurturing that elephant. I relived the scene galvanizing my anger. I worked my grudge carefully as if kneading dough. And in the end, forgiveness was simple.
I don’t suggest some sort of a forgiveness formula. But I do suggest that with God’s help, you have the ability to forgive. While conflict occurs between two or more, forgiveness is an individual action. Sometimes forgiveness occurs without the other person having any awareness of it. Even so, forgiveness is a gift to the forgiver. It frees you. It releases the flow of God’s grace and His healing power. In conflict, you are responsible for you. And you trust God with the rest. While it’s true your generous forgiveness extends grace to an undeserving other, often the boomerang effect happens. Only forgiveness from one enables reconciliation between two. Healing… REAL HEALING can begin with you.
Un-forgiveness is an uncontainable infestation. In my experience when ignored, un-forgiveness doesn’t fade, but instead flourishes.
Have you seen the movie Unbroken? It is based on the extraordinary true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner-turned-war-hero. When WW II breaks out, Louie enlists in the military. After his plane crashes, he survives an incredible 47 days adrift, until his capture by the Japanese navy. Sent to a POW camp, Louie becomes the favorite target of a particularly cruel prison commander, ‘Bird’. There are scenes in the movie that are difficult to watch as ‘Zamp’ is cruelly treated and tortured beyond all comprehension.
After the closing ceremonies of the 1998 Olympic games, CBS aired a special interviewing Zamperini to hear what happened to him after his horrific ordeal in the Japanese POW camp. Louie spoke of forgiveness. He described his real freedom. The freedom that came after he forgave each and every prison guard including and especially his nemesis, ‘the Bird’. To close the interview Louis said, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” (a quote sometimes credited to Mark Twain)
I smell violet. The clouds have lifted. Joy has been restored. And that can be true for you too.