When letting go is the only option
A couple of years ago, I had an unfortunate falling out with a very close friend of mine. Although we were both at fault for the misunderstandings that led us to the brink of discord, I took the boldest step in our spat and...well...blew up. I was wrong, and I immediately realized it. As the words of frustration, anger, and hurt were coming out of my mouth, I knew I had messed up. I could almost see the invectives traveling from my mouth to his ear. I wanted to grab them and pull them back in, but like a flittering butterfly or a greased pig, there was no catching them. The damage was done.
I started the process of reconciliation and repair in the days that followed, and to my friend's credit, he was right there with me (in fact, if I remember correctly, he was the one who reached out first). We had numerous text, email, and phone exchanges, and things looked like they were on the road to forgiveness. I took responsibility for my actions and offered a sincere apology, we talked about why we had gotten under one another's skins, and I felt relieved that brotherly love would apparently win the day!
But then something happened...and to this day, I don't know what it was. The phone calls and electronic correspondence became less frequent, there was an awkward feeling whenever we were around one another, and on several occasions, he made curious statements that led me to believe all was not well. For months, I tried to encourage face-to-face meetings, regularly (but not excessively) emailed and texted, stayed engaged on social media, and generally attempted to be the best and humblest friend I could be. Again, I had been the one to blow up first, so I felt it was my responsibility to consume the weightier portion of the crow that, quite frankly, we both had lying before us.
Unfortunately, nothing seemed to work. I could tell he was detaching...pushing away. I knew that I had to back off, hoping that emotional space would encourage a reconnection when the time was right. No such luck! For every step I took back, he ran three bounding steps away. The rift widened rapidly. After about a year, my friend had become merely an acquaintance, and I could tell he had no interest in being anything more.
As someone who takes friendship and loyalty seriously, this hurt immensely. I struggled A LOT with the fact that I had lost a friend. Beth (my wife) had to endure many self-flagellating sessions. Why was I such an idiot? Why had I not kept my temper in check that day? Was there something wrong with me? What could I do to make amends? I don't think I ever answered any of these questions fully, and--I'm not too proud to admit--I probably suffered some minor depression over it all. I loved this person greatly, but there was little or no love being returned.
Today, my former friend and I don't speak at all, nor do we exchange emails or text messages. As I was thinking about this a few weeks ago--and lamenting the loss of such a dear person in my life--I started to beat myself up again. But then I stopped. I realized two things. First, I asked for forgiveness on a number of occasions, and he refused to give it to me. As a Christian, all I can do when I mess up in life is to own my mistakes and apologize. I cannot change the past, nor can I take back hurtful words. I can only say, "I'm sorry." Secondly, I realized that "it takes two to tango" in life. Yes, I lost my temper that day, but he had an equal part to play in the friction that led up to our falling out and a significant part in what perpetuated it. Indeed, maybe he was never a true friend at all. In my experience, true friends forgive and forget. They realize the fallenness we share as humans and, in continual acts of empathy and love, offer brotherly clemency.
Nevertheless, I still care deeply for the guy, and if he were to call on me today, I would welcome him back with open arms. I'm certainly thankful for the years of friendship we had, the experiences we shared, and the many things I learned from him. I'm a better person for having known him. But there comes a time when you just have to let go...there are no other options. So, today, I have let go. It has been hard to say goodbye, but sometimes that is the greatest demonstration of love one can show.