The weight of forgiveness

Recently I had a phone conversation that led to someone asking for my forgiveness for a hurt that I truly and honestly had forgotten about. At the time of the apology I said “Of course I forgive you!” with all the cheer and comfort and grace I could shove into my slightly tight voice. And at the time, I meant it.

Then I hung up the phone and started thinking through the hurt this person had caused me. Remembering the situation. Remembering the stakes involved. Remembering the fear, hurt, and isolation I felt. And I became furious.

So I took my forgiveness back. Not because I want to be vindictive or because I don’t want to forgive, but because I do want to forgive and the reality is that I hadn’t forgiven, despite my words to that effect. I shouldn’t have offered forgiveness at that time.

Because what my premature forgiveness meant was that I was taking on the emotional burden and turmoil of the situation that was being borne by the other person. He simply unloaded it onto my shoulders. He apparently has been wracked by guilt, so I don’t want to suggest or imply that his request of forgiveness was anything but deeply sincere. But when I extended the requested forgiveness, I hadn’t yet worked through my emotional turmoil — the turmoil that I had clearly shoved deep down so far I had forgotten it existed. That meant that instead of the weight of the hurt resolving and dissolving, as forgiveness enables, it just got stuck on top of me and buried me for a while. I felt — and still feel — a little suffocated by it.

So I took my forgiveness back.

Frankly, for me, I want forgiveness to mean something more than it meant when I offered it on the phone. I want my forgiveness to mean a resolution, to communicate that I understand the situation, what I felt, what I feel about it now, and how I want the relationship to be moving forward. That kind of forgiveness releases both of us of the burden of the hurt (though not of the burden of the necessary efforts of rebuilding trust). My premature forgiveness didn’t lighten the burden, it just shifted it entirely on my shoulders.

So I took my forgiveness back.

In offering forgiveness I was not fully ready to offer, I accepted the burden of pretending things were resolved. The burden of pretending I knew what I wanted our relationship to be and that I was fine with how things are. The burden of pretense. That’s not a burden any relationship can or should bear, and one I am tired of shouldering in that particular relationship.

So I took my forgiveness back.

And I feel lighter! Because I know what I’m working towards. Forgiveness is now my goal, not my burden. I can work towards it rather than struggle underneath it. I’m slowly but deliberately working through my emotions and thoughts about that episode, and I already feel better. That’s the kind of hard work I’m willing to do, and the kind of burden I’m willing to take on.

I took my forgiveness back so that one day I can offer my forgiveness back again. And mean it.

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