A friend found that she had several truly awful options. After exploring every possible alternative, she decided the least terrible choice was to move to another state with a family member who has caused pain all of her life. Whenever my friend visited, this relative would go days without saying a word to her. When the relative did speak, the comments were snide and condescending, accusing a string of past and present slights.
My friend has always denied mistreating this relative, and she is grieved that this person imagines otherwise. My friend believes this relationship should create a close bond, and despite years of experience, still wishes that bond would grow. Seeing no other way out, my friend anticipates the “silent treatment” and the snipes with so much stress; she has developed jaw pain from clenching her teeth.
The problem is not that my friend’s relative treats her badly; the problem is that my friend expects (or hopes) that, this time, it won’t happen. Realistic expectations would allow her to stop hurting, forgive her relative, and let the barbs roll off. She needs emotional Teflon, and that is forgiveness.
Robert Jeffress presents a powerful case in his book, When Forgiveness Doesn’t Make Sense. Setting the reader up as judge and jury, Jeffress starts with the prosecution presenting several reasons not to forgive, including the possibility of feeling self-righteousness in enduring unfair injuries. Then, the defense steps up, presenting the case for forgiveness. Jeffress writes that unforgiveness damages us far more than it affects the person who wrongs us. You’ve seen how this works. You’re hurt, angry, or holding a grudge, while the person who hurt you skips along, enjoying his, or her life, feeling no consequences. You’re the one staying awake all night, developing ulcers, or suffering jaw pain.
Jeffress says that forgiveness actually has nothing to do with the person who did us wrong. That person does not have to be sorry, or even acknowledge the hurt. He says that reconciliation requires repentance, but forgiveness does not. People who want to repair relationships have to show regret for causing pain, but forgiveness isn’t about them. Forgiveness works inside the person who’s hurting. It’s just about you.
He also tells us that forgiveness does not require that we forget, or believe the situation is okay. Forgiveness doesn’t demand that we keep still and just let the hurt continue, but whether we choose to change the situation, or not, forgiveness empowers us to change our attitude. We can reclaim the power we’ve given the toxic person and choose to stop letting the situation hurt. Once the prosecution and defense rest their cases, there is only one reasonable verdict.
Since my friend has decided that living with her relative is the best available option, she needs to accept that there will be silences. Also, knowing that the accusations are false, she can have compassion for a relative who needs to live with lies.
Teflon-forgiveness lets intended injuries slide off before they can mar the surface. This avoids superficial scratches, but it’s useless to cushion blows, protect what’s underneath, or deal with injuries that have already penetrated to deeper layers. Often, the new attacks aren’t the main problem. New hurts dredge up memories of old injuries, long trapped inside, festering and destroying from within.
Join me next Monday to explore the entire hurt-management process: Protect, Repair, and Heal.