Last month a friend of mine changed his Facebook background to a photo with the words “Forgive Yourself” graffitied onto the side of a building. It’s something I say to my son when he does something wrong. He can be stubborn and have a narrow focus, but once I explain to him why an action is offensive and not to be repeated, he gets emotional and embarrassed and has a hard time shaking it off. I often have to remind him, “Now, it’s time to forgive yourself.” Seeing this photo caused me to pause and think, “Do I need to forgive myself for anything?” As I thought on it, the memory of a friendship that went wrong came to mind.
I met “Jane” at church sometime during the mid-1990s. We both were aspiring vocalists; she was much farther along than I was. We sang together, traveled together; our families ate pizza over conversations at each other’s homes. We enjoyed fashion and home decorating, and we both experienced miscarriages right about the same time that gave us a greater bond. Jane worked evenings, so we’d meet for morning coffee once a week and share small talk. I was so grateful for her friendship, and we shared so many common interests. But over time, our conversations seemed to be getting hollow. It was kind of strange that way. Jane seemed to be becoming more guarded, and our talk became less personal. I made excuses in my head, telling myself she was busy and preoccupied.
For several months, we continued this routine of morning coffee and shallow conversations till one day Jane’s husband called me, frantically looking for her. They’d had a fight and he thought she may have come to my house. She hadn’t. I wished she had. Wanting to be a good friend, I decided I’d go to her and see if she needed someone to talk to. If nothing else, she’d know I cared. Unable to locate her, I took a gamble and went to her workplace right about closing time. I saw her car and decided to wait for her to exit her office, thinking I could invite her to a late night supper or coffee. But when I saw her exit her office, she wasn’t alone. She was with another man. It was shocking; I hadn’t expected this at all! She was furious to be caught. I felt betrayed and let down.
In the weeks and months that followed, I didn’t know how to be her friend. In hopes of helping her reconcile with her husband, I watched their kids while they supposedly got together to talk. I found out later it was talking through lawyers. I felt caught in the middle, trying to be a friend, trying to do the right thing. The last time I saw Jane was in a divorce courtroom and I gave her a piece of my mind, after she’d behaved badly. It felt good to confront her, and yet I felt dirty about being tangled into her chaos. My boldness had come too late.
I saw Jane from a distance last fall. It’s been over fifteen years since “Jane’s” courtroom drama. We were both attending a ceremony, and I looked through the crowd and saw her. It took me a moment to register who she was; she was wearing very little makeup. I was wearing much more makeup than I used to, and I wondered if she’d recognize me. I couldn’t stop staring. I felt my anxiety growing. What to do? I wanted to go to her and say, “I am sorry” and “I forgive you.” But I wondered how she’d react? After the service I wandered through the crowd in search of her. Our eyes met, and then she disappeared into the people. I couldn’t find her again. I’m sure she was experiencing the same anxiety as I was and more.
Time can do two things: it can make us bitter or we can see things more clearly. When I think back to our last encounter in that courtroom and my scolding words, I wish I could take them back. They were filled with judgment. If only I could have a “do-over” and be a better friend. I wish, I wish, I wish! Looking back now, I’ve come to realize how often it seems as though Christians concentrate on the scripture in Matthew 18:15-22, where it instructs us to go to fellow Christians and lovingly talk to them about their wrong, helping them in the right direction.
Unfortunately, we have gotten a self-righteous reputation, because most of us are really bad at approaching our Christian friends in love! (Not to mention that this scripture and process is not meant for us to use with non-Christians.) But instead of addressing Jane’s error, I said nothing until my volcano of anger and hurt erupted, spewing words of judgment. I could have at least tried to have a loving conversation earlier in her drama, but I didn’t. Instead, at the end I threw verbal stones. Was she innocent? No. But that’s not the point. The point is, I regret not speaking up when she was acting vague or when I saw her life beginning to fall apart. I should have cared enough to muster the courage to lovingly speak to her, sharing my concern.
Just as my son has a hard time shaking his guilt, I obviously do too. With a heavy heart, I have reflected on this friendship many times over the years. And quite a while ago, I asked God to forgive me for not handling this relationship better. His forgiveness was mine, but I hadn’t accepted it. No more! Today, I accept God’s forgiveness and I choose to forgive myself.
Can you relate? Have you been carrying guilt? Are you secretly disappointed in how you handled a situation? Confess your wrong to God, then take it a step further, accept His forgiveness and forgive yourself. 1 John 1:9