[Drafter's Note: I don't think there could be such a thing as an exhaustive blog post on this topic. There are absolutely exceptions. There are absolutely if/thens. This is only what I've been talking and thinking about lately, and I hope it gets you doing the same.]
I've found myself in a couple conversations lately, digging through that always-simple issue of forgiveness. And I've been realizing that there are different types--or perhaps styles--of forgiveness. The one that I've found myself thinking on today is what I might call retributive forgiveness, in part because "retributive" is a fun word to say. " ("Reciprocal" is more accurate, but less linguistically enjoyable.) This is the style we've all practiced, at least internally: the variety of forgiveness wherein we (oh-so-helpfully) summarize not only our process of frustration and reconciliation but our partner's as well. "I said things I didn't mean, you said things you didn't mean..."
The problem is, this isn't forgiveness. It's settling accounts. "I owed you, you owed me, let's be pals and call it even." It's a great philosophy for minor financial conundrums, not so great for relational ruptures. It's problematic because we're highlighting--either to justify or lessen our own faults--that we were not alone in this fight.
And the fact is, of course we weren't. There aren't one-person fights (not external ones, anyway). We wronged, and we were wronged. But if we enter into reconciliation with the tally of Who Did What still rolling in our heads, we aren't really seeking authentic forgiveness, given or received.
In the midst of these recent conversations, I've been recalling and delving into a few true, authentic reconciliations I've had, searching for clues to what made them tick. And this might be the A+ Number One Thing I realized: I didn't come into it waiting for my apology, either in what I said or what I didn't. In the experience that leaps most readily to mind, I found myself focusing on The Place I Screwed Things Up. Of course, there had been more than one, and I don't mean that the key to forgiveness is throwing yourself in front of the train, but when we seek forgiveness we can't be coming to the table with the motivation of rehashing what was done to us.
Relationships--be they familial, friendly, professional or romantic (but hopefully not all four)--are hard. It's mushing broken people together to points where their faults and idiosyncrasies are not only revealed but sometimes exacerbated, and in such a state we can't help but, on occasion, wound and be wounded. And as a friend commented on her own situation this week, there is a nearly irresistible draw to close up, to break and leave broken. Our culture tends to suggest this in its urging to protect ourselves, to bring safety and stability to our lives by hedging bets, learning from the last time, keeping trust and vulnerability locked away safe. What is far harder is to fight. To tell our broken hearts to heal but not harden. To come back to the table, to try again.
I have a dim memory of hearing this, perhaps at a wedding: that there is a reason Paul points out in his famed "Love Chaper" (1 Corinthians 13) that "love keeps no record of wrongs," and there is a reason we are so drawn to it: because we are so very, very good at it. We (maybe women, especially, but men aren't faultless here) love to keep an ever-growing list of How You Messed Up, when all the while love--real, genuine, in-this-for-real love--comes to the table with a list thrown in the trash and an apology--just for oneself--on the lips.
And what happens next?