The Best Thing I did Last Christmas
Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave. – Indira Ghandi
The best thing I did last Christmas had nothing to do with family gatherings, food, music, lights… or what was under the tree.
In fact, it wasn’t public at all.
Last Christmas – after a particularly painful conversation with someone I wasn’t sure I could trust – I realized I was carrying something… heavy. Without trying, I’d found myself in… let’s call it tension, with a few key people – and one of them called me out.
I didn’t know where the tension came from. Perhaps it was gradual, like a stack of tiny rocks I’d collected over the few years I’d known these people. I thought I’d stuffed it away, or even ‘dealt with it,’ and yet here I was, less than a week from Christmas, and the rocks had spilled all over the main part of my life.
There was no escaping it.
And I knew I had a choice: continue in the tension, try to pretend it wasn’t there, or try and diffuse it.
Those of you who’ve ever been married know that the best way to escalate a fight is to: 1) defend yourself, or 2) leave.
The only way to diffuse it?
Swallow your pride, stay in place, and try to understand the other person.
The only way to understand the other person, of course, usually starts with realizing you might be responsible for at least part of this.
A conflict is rarely one person’s fault. When it is, there’s often serious issues at play – issues that require a professional, or at least serious distance between the two of you. But in the other 99.9% of conflicts we have… well…
It’s usually both of our faults. We’re just too messed up to do human relationships perfectly.
Accept it. You weren’t born infallible.
And really, though there are some people that just won’t like us, no matter what we do, there are others, ones we could try with, that sometimes we’ve just… given up on.
And…last Christmas, someone called me on it.
I confess, I didn’t want to try. I didn’t think it was my fault. I didn’t know why I was being singled out.
Forgiveness is a strange concept. We’re flawed beings. Some of us – most of us – have excellent memories of what and who have wronged us. We think, if I forgive, then that makes what they did, what happened, okay.
And the overwhelming hurt we have because of what they did usually prompts us to say, I can’t say its okay.
But unlike the simple I’m sorry‘s and It’s okays that are exchanged hourly between my creative and passionate children, forgiving big people doesn’t mean you make the wrong, not wrong.
The Greek word for forgive – aphemi – means ‘to let go from one’s power or possession; to let go free; to let escape.’
And though most of us think that escape benefits the one forgiven, the past twelve months I’ve seen that perhaps Suzanne Somers was right, and it’s actually a gift to us who forgive.
Because carrying around someone you’re not too thrilled with? Not too fun.
So, last Christmas, I realized that as much as I hated it, I was at a turning point with the one who’d called me on my stuff. I could stay my ground, and possibly win the fight (yeah, right), or I could swallow my indignation and say, what can I do to make this better?
I did the latter. And I’m so glad I did, because that painful conflict of Christmas 2010 has settled into a sometimes uneasy, but powerful respect during the months of 2011.
Respect grew trust.
And the broken pieces of my once-fortified ego propelled me to make it right, at least as right as I could, with another person I had unwittingly kept bound to me with my own resentment.
They didn’t respond as well as I’d hoped, but it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if the person you forgive, forgives you or not (after all, we can’t make anyone do anything). It doesn’t matter if you still can’t be in the same room as them and feel …awesome.
It matters that you try.
We think, if we don’t forgive, we keep that person tied to us so we can punish them somehow with our constant reminder that what they did was not okay.
Except, they might not know they’re tied to us. But we do.
As one of my favorite Texans says, the unforgiven is roped to the back of the unforgiving… how ironic (that)… unforgiveness is the means by which we securely bind ourselves to that which we hate most. (Beth Moore, Living Beyond Yourself)
So, the best thing I did last Christmas?
I let it – and them – go.
I also contacted these people and told them I was sorry it had taken this long.
I wonder, what would happen to each of us if we did the same this year?
It’s been twelve months since my last soul-searching I forgive yous (and no, I’m not talking about, I forgive you, honey, for forgetting to put the toilet seat down, or I forgive you, girls, for dumping apple juice all over my freshly cleaned carpet, because if we include those, I have to forgive every… five minutes). I’m talking about the ones that simmer, the people we’ve accumulated, well… junk, with.
Wouldn’t you know it, this year, there’s a couple of other relationships that I’ve let simmer.
And though I’m not sure what they’ll do, I have to try.
They might not be able to try back. And sometimes there’s seasons of… unperfect stuff between you and another. And you don’t need to rush those seasons. The uncomfortable feelings often need to stew a bit, change us a bit, before we (or they!) are ready to let go.
But can you imagine the extra meaning Christmas would have for us, if we took that phrase… peace on earth, goodwill towards men… a little more seriously?
Goodwill can’t be manufactured. You can’t fake forgiveness. But some of you reading this know exactly who you need to talk to.
Don’t be scared. Do it. No matter what they say or do back, no matter how many hours or days (or even years) it takes to see something really positive between the two of you, you won’t regret knowing you did everything you could to make it right.
You won’t miss having someone tied to your back, either.
If nothing else, our partners in conflict might notice the freedom it gives us. It might bother them enough that they realize they’ve got to do something about their part too.
And, even if they choose to hold onto their stuff, as Oscar Wilde said, always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.
Are you smiling yet?
In case any of you are still thinking, but I’m just not there yet, that’s okay. Don’t force it. But… for your own good, work as far towards letting go as you can.
Are you ready to say goodbye to 2011? Are you ready for a clean slate?
While most of us will soon make resolutions that might be out in the trash can before the calendar says January 2nd, I wish you now, all the time and guts it takes to step out of crazy busy Christmas preparations and give yourselves a gift that pervades – even empowers – all resolutions.
Find those to whom you need to say I’m sorry, or I forgive you.
Take a deep breath. You are not alone. There’s at least one other person doing this too.
And, I promise, it will be better than anything you could give or get under the tree.
It’ll give you an amazing 2012.