Since the mass exodus from our CLB over a year ago, my husband and I have experienced the reconciliation of many of our relationships that were severed during our years of isolation. For the most part, this has been really positive.
However, in recent months, I have been aware of emotions stirred up that I thought were put to rest. In the process of walking with people who have just entered detox, we have encountered bits and pieces of the stories that have been told about us. No really big surprises, just details that make sense and cause us to say, “no wonder.”
One of the things which has come up repeatedly is the extent to which my former best friend went to to imply scandal concerning my husband. Hearing these stories has required that I step back into the cycle of forgiveness and letting go of offense and judgment.
The other thing that I struggle with is that in spite of the fact that some of the falseness at the church has been exposed, we personally were not automatically vindicated. While people feel free to talk to us now, many have not reconsidered what they were told about us for several years. Many still believe there was some sort of tawdry scandal in our lives. The tarnish still remains.
It was in this frame of mind that I recently encountered my former best friend at the coffee shop. It was like entering the Twilight Zone. No one shuns me anymore, so I wasn’t really prepared for this encounter.
She was there with another former close friend of mine, and I was with ex-CLBers who are mutual friends. During the 5-10 minutes we stood at their table visiting, she completely ignored my presence in spite of the fact that I was less than 3 feet from her. Apparently I was the only one of the group deserving of this special treatment.
Shunning is a group game that requires a target, who is being punished for deviating from established norms.
The Emotional Payoff: “We feel more powerful because we can punish people.”
Exposing the Game: Shunning can be difficult to expose, because denial of the game’s existence is an integral part of the game itself. Attempts to get shunning players to admit their tactics make the target appear needy and pathetic.
In the moment, I was struggling with my inner dialogue. This conversation from Barb’s blog was reverberating in my mind as I struggled with how to respond.
Barb: I will not slink around them though as if I have done something wrong any more though. I will not play the game any longer as if I deserve to be shunned. If someone is uncomfortable talking to me I am apt to ask them why all the discomfort. If they ignore me, I am apt to ask why they do that. If they pretend that everything is just fine, I may ask why they are pretending with me when I know they have huge problems with me.
My response: I do believe that for the people specifically responsible for the abuse, the public facade of niceness is an extension of the abuse forcing you to once again participate in covering up their falseness.
You see, I know her well enough to know exactly what she was doing and why she was doing it. I also know that I am not deserving of that kind of treatment and that it is part of the dysfunctional game that has been played for so many years. I don’t want to play the game anymore.
Somewhere between calling out the elephant in the room and refusing to play the nice game, I became mute. I walked away thinking, “that was really bizarre.” I was frustrated and disappointed with my response and lack of engagement.
Ever since then, I have been wrestling with the idea of forgiveness and reconciliation.
The Shack says, “Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established.”
I can and have forgiven. The responsibility for this broken relationship is not mine. It wasn’t my choice, and my friend has not expressed any interest in reconciliation. Good, I’m off the hook. Or am I?
What is my degree of responsibility for reconciliation? It seems everywhere I turn, people are writing about forgiveness.
From the book Ain’t Too Proud to Beg:
The forgiveness that Jesus’ subjects show to each other and to every neighbor, stranger, and enemy extends the fruit of the Kingdom to the ends of the earth, actualizes the atonement, and renews creation. We who receive forgiveness are newly created and newly restored, and we who offer it are co-creators and co-redeemers, deputies of the King.
Prayer for persecutors and love of enemies presupposes forgiveness of debtors. Jesus has prefaced his prayer with the command to go to any brother or sister or accuser who has something against us and be reconciled.
Peggy’s post, When Enemy Wears the Mask of Friend contains these wise thoughts:
Most of the people who are at the center of wounds in my memory are supposed to be my friends, not my enemies. It is an important thing to bring “enemy” closer to home, just as it is an important thing to bring “sin” down to not choosing to love…As we look at the faces of those who have wounded us, we must recognize the image — the cracked Eikon — of God.
May I have the courage, first, to call the name “enemy” where, in truth, it lies … and then to ask the Holy Spirit to do a work in my heart and memory that results in power for forgiveness of and love for and restoration of the name Eikon where Enemy once sat.
Alan Knox addressed reconciliation in his recent series on Matthew 18:
“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
Peter understood that if his brother sinned against him and then reconciled, sinned against him and then reconciled, sinned against him and then reconciled…he may have to continue to humble himself and go to his brother and seek reconciliation… how many times? Surely seven times would be enough. Surely, Jesus, if I do this seven times, doesn’t this show that my brother really isn’t concerned about me and that I shouldn’t forgive him any longer?
Larry Chouinard’s thoughts on Matthew 18:
In the Kingdom the offended pursues the offender so that together they can experience the transforming power of reconciliation. There are no cold wars in the Kingdom, either you are working for peace and restored relationships, or you are part of a dysfunctional body. It is in this pursuit of peace that Jesus promises to be in our midst.
Too often the values of the Kingdom are gutted and muted by the hypothetical and the failure to imagine the possibilities. If you are counting how many times you’ve forgiven someone, you’re not really forgiven them, only postponing revenge.
I don’t know what reconciliation would look like in this situation. I am not really interested in a restored friendship. Whatever reconciliation might look like, it would start with me letting go of my right to truth and justice and being friendly in the face of ongoing rejection and arrogance. I am willing to be humiliated by this person who wants to punish me, if I can remember that there is a bigger picture than what I am experiencing in the moment.
When a friend who witnessed this encounter invited me to coffee recently, she asked if I might prefer to go somewhere where an encounter would be less likely.
I said, “No, I would welcome a do-over. Perhaps I will do better next time.”