I need to let him go, simply because he is too heavy for me to carry any longer.

I type the word into the search bar. I think I know a lot about a thing like forgiveness but sometimes I see his face in my mind and the hatred swells and the hurt wins and forgiving him loses traction on my weary heart. He’s not worth the dust that gathers there on the shelves and yet I bleed myself dry trying to forgive those trespasses, trying to believe that Jesus forgives me as I forgive him (Matt. 6:14-15). How do I forgive when he never said he was sorry? When he said I was too much, too much independence for 17, a little too wild to serve? As the Dixie Chicks crooned, it’s been {five} long years now, since the top of the world came crashing down. And just like Miss Natalie Maines herself, I’m getting it back on the road now, but I’m taking the long way around.

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I’ll never forget that spring and how my life was forever changed in one throbbing second. I’ve never been hurt by somebody the way I was hurt by him. He’s not a former love or even family. He’s no one to me now but I suppose back then he was a man who passed through my 17th year. Passed through it, abused it, chewed it up and spat it back out to stomp on. He’s the one who stole my high school graduation year, the one who shamed my name in a school I adored, the one who couldn’t take all that 17 meant for me so he broke my spirit to bolster his pride. I suppose I’m lying when I say he’s no one to me now. That much is clear. I’ll be quick to clarify: he didn’t lay a hand on me, nor did he break any rules or laws. I’ll willingly admit, he even chose his words carefully. Too damn carefully.

I wrote a long time ago about that trip. I wrote about becoming un-leadable. I wrote about knowing with absolute certainty that they hated who I was so I charged forward like a horse strapped with blinders, too scared to be loathed so. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t be who they wanted me to be so I became more of what they hated. “Maybe if I were older, maybe if I could have gone back in time to tell that terrified woman-child what I know now, then she could have found a way to be who they wanted her to be. I’m not solely the victim here. I was a perpetrator. I know that full well. I couldn’t do it and that will haunt me forever. But you know what? That’s okay. I was seventeen, for God’s sake. I forgive myself.”

It’s almost March so I go back to that post again, go back to that room, back to those bloodshot eyes. I go back to his voice, “telling me none of it – none of the songs, the crafts, the bubbles and joy, the kids hanging on my legs with beaming white smiles, my voice and that guitar at the front of the church that very first morning – none of it was enough. It meant nothing. To them, to him, it was nothing. March brings me back to that hallway, eyes wide, tears burning holes in the back of my throat, my heart beat over the table with words so ugly. March. March to your room, Olivia. Gasping for air. Trying to choke the words out in the back of that van. ‘Lean on me,’ she said, trying to make it go away. She wiped the sweat and the tears from my face and I thank God my best friend was there to love me that day.

We revisited that day over dinner recently. My mom nodded knowingly from across the table. She knows. She knows what it feels like to be told to bury who you are. People want the fire, they want the bluntness, they want strength when it is convenient for them. But when the fire stings your pride, you can’t put it out with force the way he tried to – it burns hot under pressure. I tried to explain to them how it’s marred my world. How you can know the value in letting bygones be bygones – everybody knows that forgiveness is divine – but somedays you wake up and the hatred is stronger. There are seasons where I haven’t thought once of his face and there are seasons still where he has clung to me like a leech, sucking the life out of me.

I wonder sometimes why Jesus didn’t warn us of how long it could take to forgive our brother for just one wrongdoing, let alone the seventy times seven (Matt. 18: 21-22). I wonder if it’s better that we find out this way. If I had known how hard it would be to forgive him, I might never have started trying. It took my three years to forgive myself for the mess I made of it all and it has taken me five years to forgive him. I have tried to choose grace over and over again, knowing that only forgiveness can set me free. But I’m realizing that forgiveness, letting go, and moving on – for me – has to coincide with giving up the explaining, the excuses, the revisiting. For five years, forgiveness has never been compete as long as my spirit ached for retribution and restoration of name.

Alexander MacLaren said of retribution, “If you waste your youth, no repentance will send the shadow back upon the dial, or recover the ground lost by idleness, or restore the constitution shattered by dissipation, or give back the resources wasted upon vice, or bring back the fleeting opportunities. The wounds can all be healed, for the Good Physician, blessed be His name! has lancets and bandages, and balm and anodynes for the deadliest; but scars remain even when the gash is closed.

I’ve come to see now that I need to stop trying to explain what happened that March. No one can ever truly understand and would it matter if they did? As much as I yearn for retribution, I feel it in my bones every time I seek their understanding: the old anger boiling up in protest of the forgiveness so painstakingly given. The hurt winning once again. These scars are not going to fade quite yet, of that I’m sure. But I’m more than through with fixating on them. And eventually, forgiveness needs to put its foot down: We’re done with the “trying”, you and I. Let’s do this – for real.

I need to stop waiting for him to be sorry. It hurts too much to wait. Would it change the straightforwardness of this Jesus-forgiveness? I don’t believe that – not for one second. I’m ready to let him go.

I need to let him go, simply because he is too heavy for me to carry any longer.

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