Last year, the father I’ve never met checked into the hospital for minor surgery. There’s no guarantee that whoever goes under the cloak of anesthesia will come out safely, minor surgery or not, so I imagine it raised the concerns of the people who actually know and love him. In an effort to rally the legions of children he’s left his genetic footprint on, my oldest half-sister—bless her heart—sent me a Facebook message asking me if I would come to see him during his brief stay, either before or following his procedure.
She and I have never met face-to-face, but have been in contact via inbox conversations, so she took the opportunity to try a little sisterly persuasion by tugging ever-so-gently at my heartstrings. She peddled quotable comments about the past being beyond our control but the future being ours to dictate and design. Then she pulled out the big guns: Biblical scripture. God wanted me to forgive. It was right there in the Word. And my refusal to get on board with this impromptu Brady Bunch moment was throwing a monkey wrench in the Master’s master plan.
Somehow, somewhere, someone got forgiveness and foolishness all tangled and intertwined together. Forgiveness, on its own, is mentally and emotionally letting go of any grievance, any hard feelings, any smoldering resentments you have against a person, even a situation. But expectations from forgiveness can be stretched way too far. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you want to be bothered with them. It doesn’t mean you want them to bring a covered dish to your bridal shower or text you a bunch of flimsy well wishes on your birthday. It is very possible to let go of the feelings that are keeping you in personal bondage and still not want to smile all in their face. Sometimes it’s just enough to forgive. That is the healing in and of itself.
I say this because sometimes, depending on the circles you run in and the people you associate with, folks might try to make you feel guilty about not brandishing your newfound forgiveness in some flashy show of solidarity.
You forgave him, right? Give him a hug. OK, one more.
You forgave her, right? Why don’t you invite her over?
You forgave them, right? Can’t wait to see them at your housewarming!
A willingness to forgive shouldn’t be confused with or assumed to be a willingness to interact. It’s not a mandatory part of the forgiveness twelve-step program.
Folks like to test me with that what-would-Jesus-do? mindset, particularly as it pertains to my nonexistent relationship with my nonexistent father, who I mentally exonerated years ago for being a big ol’ dud. At a discussion sponsored by the young adult ministry at my church a few months ago, the topic of forgiveness came up and I offered that just because I’m a Christian does not mean I’m availing myself to be hurt and disappointed again and again and again by the same people, circumstances and distorted values that inflicted the pain in the first place.
One dude hopped up to challenge me, suggesting that it was his duty as a man of God to put himself out there as a show of love, even at the risk of being continually mistreated. Kind of like the slap my face, turn the other cheek thing in Matthew 5:38-40, I guess. He cited a strained relationship with his father as an example of how he can take a lickin’ and keep on handing out fresh forgiveness. Bless you sir, wherever you are. I matched him, deadbeat daddy for deadbeat daddy and declared not I, said Janelle.
I think, on every level, you have to give people the flexibility to be human and make mistakes and forgive them for it, particularly if they’re remorseful and ready to move on. Even if they’re not, you have to do it for yourself and your own peace of mind as you do for them. And, at some point, you’re going to need forgiveness for something or another your doggone self, so you have to give it to get it. But that does not obligate you to subject yourself to their presence or maintain regular contact with them. I believe the expression is forgive them, then love them from afar.
Needless to say, my long-lost sister was disappointed that I decided not to show up at my father’s bedside and pat and congratulate him for… I’m not quite sure what. My presence would’ve done nothing to help along his recovery, that’s for sure. Double that for my smart alecky comments and ever-present sarcasm. He’s forgiven as far as I’m concerned. But if he wants his pardon accessorized with a hug and a meaningful smile, he’ll be waiting.