We were driving through a quaint Welsh village (Betws-y-Coed, since you asked), just getting ready to sling-shot free of civilization and head for the pass at Mount Snowdon, when my husband showed me an email.
We’d been waiting to receive our security deposit back from a short-term vacation rental. The email was from the “letting” agency informing us on a “without prejudice” basis that the owner had discovered blue crayon on a wall in the property and since he had been unsuccessful in removing the crayon, he was keeping the deposit in order to repaint the room.
Because you need to repaint an entire room when you are touching up some blue crayon.
I was blinded by anger. My face became hot, and my blood pressure soared as my stomach dropped. I raged against the injustice.
You see, my youngest boys – who, at 2 and 3 years old are the only ones who still consider colouring fun, and colouring walls exceedingly so – do not have any crayons, blue or otherwise.
Not only that, but my husband and I went over that cottage with a fine tooth comb before we left, cleaning it as if Jesus himself was going to be the next guest there. There were no blue crayon marks. Not one. Anywhere.
The guy was lying and it sent me into a mental tailspin. I was overwhelmed by fantasies of revenge. I mentally composed my negative review for Tripadvisor (take that!), drafted my arguments for small claims court, and imagined an internet Campaign of Destruction whereby I’d buy up all the domain names with his company name in it and write negative blog posts (SEOd up to the gills) so that anyone searching for his cottages would find my bad reviews first.
He might be able to keep my money, but I’d damned well make him pay for it.
By the time we arrived on the other side of Snowdon, I realized a couple of things. First, I had no recollection of that epic drive. My mind had been so focused on revenge I had not been able to appreciate the beauty of where I was.
Second, it occurred to me that perhaps my indignation and righteous anger were not entirely in keeping with my spiritual beliefs. From Jesus to the Dalai Lama to Eckhart Tolle, everyone agrees on two things: 1) holding on to anger does you no good, and b) you have to forgive.
But it is really hard to forgive someone who stealing from you.
Luke 6:27 really struck a chord. Loving my enemy took on new meaning. Then there is all that “you have to forgive others for their trespasses against you if you want yours to be forgiven by God”.
And I get that all of this love-your-enemy-let-it-go stuff is ultimately really healthy. It keeps you from getting stuck – like a broken record – listening to the same repetitive, negative mental sound track where you a victim rather than an agent of change in your life. You stay the person who was done to rather than being a person who does.
Revenge, of course, sounds lovely when you are in the thick of it. But as I sat there looking back at the mountain, which I never really took in because my thoughts were elsewhere, I realized that in 2 hours my blood pressure had really not stabilized. Amongst the often quite creative thoughts I had of how I could get my own back, I also had the random thought that maybe this was not a healthy place to stay.
So I prayed.
I didn’t pray for much, it has to be said. I simply prayed for peace. I imagined myself wrapped in light, calm, composed, and serene.
But I was also at a playground with 2 toddlers and 2 snippy older kids who thought they were way above playing “Sharks and Fish” with their younger siblings, so my prayers for peace were punctuated with having to play the peacemaker after each argument, bust-up and disagreement over who tagged who, if it counted when you were on base, and declarations of “MINE!” punctuated with a sound smack on the head.
Peace does not come easy to a mother.
It probably took most of the day, that night, and well into the next morning. I had relapses of revenge thoughts. I pushed them away. I had more negative thoughts. I told myself that money wasn’t everything. It would be ok. I would trust that it would all work out in the end.
I drank a lot of tea.
And in the end, I forgave him. It did not make what did ok – lying about my kids was a terrible deception. It would have been easier – and, in a bizarre way, more honest – if had he just taken the money out of my handbag.
But I got there. I let it go.
Late the following day, my husband spoke to the property management company. He explained our position. And they agreed. They gave us back the money.
It was that easy.
Forgiveness is a process. In this case, I was able to work through that process in one day. But there are times when the trespass is much bigger, much more significant. In those cases, I don’t think we should rush the process. Having gone through some of these hurts, I don’t think that anyone, least of all a loving God, would expect a mere mortal to work through that process in a single day. Maybe not in a single year.
But it helps to be open to it. I have watched people – notably my mother – allow themselves to become walking shadows of themselves because of the offenses committed against them and the losses they have suffered.
My mother feels justified in her anger. Only she doesn’t call it anger, she calls it something much more socially acceptable – she calls it grief and depression.
When you lose a child, who can begrudge you that?
But it all stems from the same place. My mother has been unwilling – not unable, but unwilling – to be open to the process of forgiveness. She has never forgiven the person who sexually abused my sister which led to her obesity which led to her gastric bypass which led to her alcoholism which led to her kidney and liver failure which caused her death.
It is a horrible thing to lose a child. It is a tragedy beyond measure.
But I wish….
I wish she would try. For my sake. For my brother’s sake. For my dad and her grandkids.
I wish she would open herself to the process of forgiveness.
The real consequence of holding on to the wrongs others do to us and those we do to others is the suffering we cause to ourselves and those around us. We make our family and our friends pay daily in lost joy. We ask our loved ones to carry the burden of our suffering.
We miss out on the awe-inspiring grace of a well-lived and well-loved life: the birth of a child, the wedding of dear friend, the majesty of a mountain pass.
When we stay stuck in the wrong done to us, we allow ourselves to be stuck in hell. And we take our loved ones with us.
Don’t stay stuck. Give yourself time. Just be open to the process.
And know that the grace and mercy of God are yours for the asking.
You only have to ask.