Friendships come and go. Sometimes, when friendships go, the parting is gentle and fulfilling. A friend gets a job in a new state and has to leave town. A friend leaves the local church because of a calling on their hearts to begin a new ministry elsewhere. And so on. Passages like these, while not "easy", at least have the possibility of closure and release. We won't see each other often, if at all, as our paths diverge. But we can wish each other Godspeed as we depart, express our affection for one another, and know that if we see one another again, it can be a joyful moment of reunion.
Sometimes, though, the passages are not so gentle. A friend gets mad at a decision you made and packs up their football and leaves. Or, a friend gets mad at a mutual friend, and cuts off contact with you as collateral damage. A co-worker goes "scorched earth" on the way out the door, hurting everyone in their path. In these cases, the departure is far from gentle, and there's little opportunity for closure.
What happens when one of those people walks back into your life? This has happened to me a lot lately. You're doing something completely unrelated, like shopping for groceries, and suddenly there they are in front of you. The last memories you have of them are painful; the last words you heard from them were hurtful. They haven't sought reconciliation from you ... and yet, common courtesy would have you greet them cordially and professionally, even though it's really the last thing you'd want to do. And so, I do greet them. But it feels incredibly awkward. Is there a better way?
Long time readers of my blog know that I've been thinking a lot in recent years about forgiveness. A book I read last year described forgiveness as an incredibly powerful, active action: a statement that your desire to restore the relationship is stronger than the hurt you received. It's not that the hurt is unimportant. It's that the relationship is more important.
So ... am I to forgive those who have hurt me, even if they haven't sought forgiveness?
It is incredibly hard to do so. And then, I remember the story of the Prodigal Son. True, in that story, the prodigal seeks forgiveness. But the father extends his affection and forgiveness to his son before the son has the opportunity to ask for forgiveness. Clearly, the father's act of forgiveness was not conditioned on the reaction of his son. He made the decision long before.
It looks like I still have some more people to work on forgiving. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.