The soldier, the girlfriend, and the “Dear John” letter
Only when we stop trying to strike back can we move on with our lives
By Father Joseph Sica
Excerpted from Forgiveness: One Step at a Time by Father Joseph Sica
Maybe you heard about the Desert Storm soldier who, while he was overseas, received a “Dear John” letter from his girlfriend back home. To add insult to injury, she wrote, “Will you please return my favorite photograph of myself? I need it for my engagement picture in the local newspaper.”
The poor guy was devastated, but all the soldiers came to his rescue. They went through the entire camp and collected pictures of all the other guys’ girlfriends. They filled up an entire shoebox and sent it back to the girl, along with a note from the guy saying, “Please find your picture and return the rest; for the life of me, I can’t remember which one is you!”
Humorous, fitting, and at the same time apparently harmless! I call it relatively harmless because, as far as I understand, that’s where it ended; she hurt him, he hurt her back, his friends helped him to heal, and she probably opened the box, realized it was her “just desert,” married her new guy, and moved on with her life. Moving on is key: If they both moved on, the dual acts of tit and tat were harmless and, in many ways, cathartic. A healthy blowout and then back to normal life.
Unfortunately, in far too many cases, we can become obsessed with “winning at any cost.” Our anger increases and reaches an explosive level because the person who injured us isn’t chasing after us or seeking us out to repair the relationship. After the initial hurt was dealt, they may have even communicated a desire to sit down and talk this out or made multiple attempts to reconcile, but we’ve responded with the “retreat” dance moves: shut out, shut down, and freeze out. We’ve ignored their offers of apology or attempts to make it right, and it should have stopped there. Instead, we perpetuated the hurt and focus on revenge. “Notice me!” we seem to be shouting. “I’m still here! I’m still hurting! You should be hurting too!”
Despite our better judgment, something in us wants them to come crawling back on their hands and knees begging for forgiveness, but they aren’t doing that, which makes us even more angry.
Revenge is a poor substitute for wisdom; it is shortsighted, counterproductive, and ineffective. Revenge upon someone who hurts us only deals with a single situation. Forgiveness clears our vision and helps us see how we were drawn into an injured relationship to begin with. It helps us recognize other situations that could lead to hurt feelings. Dancing toward forgiveness frees our own souls. It lets us out of prison. It lets us continue to grow into tenderhearted and affectionate people. And it keeps us from holding people hostage, from shaking our fists, striking back in vengeful fury, or putting others on probation until they have felt our pain.
Forgiveness frees our minds and souls and helps us to remember that those who hurt us can never win as long as we don’t allow them to remain the focus of our living. Once we forgive, we can focus once again on becoming wise, loving, and kind people.
Please understand, forgiveness is not another word for stupidity; it doesn’t make you a doormat. If someone has injured you, forgiving them doesn’t mean you excuse, condone, or for that matter forget what they have done. What forgiveness does mean is that you no longer wait for others to pay for what they have done to you. You move on with your life, becoming who you were meant to be.
And there’s another beautiful benefit of forgiveness. People seem almost magically drawn to learn from those who have triumphed over hurt and become more loving as a result.
Forgiving someone who hurt us really is the sweetest form of “revenge.” Not because we’ve given up or even given in, but because we’ve truly given ourselves permission to reclaim our lives, learn from the experience, and move on. Once we have released our desire for revenge, the one who injured us no longer has power over us. CD