Endings and Forgiveness


I don’t talk or write very often about endings. I have written a lot about beginnings, starting new projects, greeting a new season, and even resetting to begin again. Very few posts in this blog have to do with ending and completion.

When I ran a marathon in 2015, there was a lot of celebration at the starting line. Surprisingly, there was much less hoopla at the finish line. In a lot of ways this makes sense. In the marathon, we all start more or less together, thousands of people beginning the journey, but then we spread out over the miles and each person finishes on their own. The crowd diminishes to a trickle over the next few hours.

I have rituals for beginning the day which usually involve coffee, meditation, prayer, writing in my journal. Funnily enough, I don’t have really have rituals for completing and ending the day. That will soon change.

It’s fun to begin something. The first day of school is filled with excitement, new pencils, new routines. It’s exhilarating to write the first chapter or essay of a new book. It feels great to make a list for the new week. I love mapping out and working on a plan for a new project. First dates are fun. The beginning of a hike is carefree. A packed bag, a full gas tank, and the open road feel like freedom.

I am good at beginning. I am less successful with endings, with finishing, with completion, with finality, with letting go.

I have a couple of files on my laptop that are of uncompleted book manuscripts. I have written lots of unfinished lists. A couple of my romantic relationships ended well, but then fell apart completely in the friendships that followed. Those endings were not good. A couple of high school friendships that I renewed in adulthood ended in conflict and no communication because we did not know how to say no or or how to say goodbye.

I am learning, though. I am getting better at goodbyes, at endings. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s circumstance.

This past week, I grappled with an ending to a relationship that was a long-distance-professional-yet-volunteer one. I have never met the other person in real life, but we have communicated over the years via email, and then more recently via text and phone calls when I planned to take on some new duties for this person’s organization. Over the course of the week there was excitement. There were plans, frequent communication, then discomfort. Then I had self-doubt and let things continue for a couple more days. Then I spoke up about the boundary that was crossed. There was a response and a bit of back-and-forth.

I paused for reflection and analysis. In most cases, you want healing and discussion and a way to remedy behaviors. I thought about my own behavior and responsibility within this relationship. I had taken responsibility in the back-and-forth and in the initial speaking up. Here’s the thing about speaking up. Not everyone is going to respond the way you want them to. Not everyone is going to see things your way. Not everyone is going to acknowledge their own behavior or see the boundaries in the same way.

This is where clear communication comes in. This is also where a lot of miscommunication and hurt feelings come to play. I had to make a decision that was best for me.

I spent time thinking about it and deciding I didn’t want to spend my energy and time on this, especially when I was volunteering. I want to be in healthy functional relationships, even my volunteer ones, and I no longer had much faith in this person, in this situation. I realized I had a choice. I sent a formal email expressing my desire to end the working relationship and asked for a cease to all communication. Because of the crossed boundary, I blocked the accounts and deleted emails. In this case, a complete end to the relationship feels like the healthiest and best way to go.

In this case, I needed to forgive the other person. But forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean staying in the relationship or even telling the other person about my forgiveness. Forgiveness is completely about the person doing the forgiving, and really has nothing to do with the other person. I also needed to forgive myself. I needed to let go and learn from the situation. Forgiveness, healing, learning. In some cases, the forgiveness, healing, and learning come even with a severed relationship.

In a weird parallel, this week, I also had to acknowledge my own wrongdoing with a dear friend. It’s a mistake I have made before. It’s a behavior of mine that I have tried to correct and then relapsed into old patterns, repeatedly over the years. This past week, I apologized to the friend and then said I would never let it happen again.

In the case with the dear friend, I needed to forgive myself for the past mistakes and the current ones. I needed to see the pattern and examine why I kept repeating the behavior. I needed to learn, yet again. In some cases, you just have to decide to stop doing something. It can be as clear and as easy as drawing a line. In this case, I decided I wanted healing and an ending to my past behavior. The friend has forgiven me multiple times, even in the times where I wasn’t sure if we were even friends anymore. This friend, I’m sure, is skeptical. My changed behavior over an extended period of time may still not be enough to convince the friend, but my changed behavior is what I need to heal and move on, even if my friend ends the relationship. I also have to acknowledge that my past behaviors have challenged and fractured the friendship over the years. The change is this: I have forgiven myself and made a decision to stop the behavior. I also worked on healing the wound and acknowledged that to myself so that I could get to the root of the behavior. I can tell that this time is different, even if it’s too soon or too late for the friend to see the difference.

We acknowledge, take responsibility, forgive, heal, learn, grow. In some cases, our forgiveness means a severed relationship. In some cases, our forgiveness means a new turn in a relationship. In some cases, our forgiveness means a change to behavior and a true healing.

There is an ending to a relationship. There is an ending to a behavior.

In both cases, there has to be forgiveness for there to be healing. Forgiveness is an ending that has nothing to do with the other person. Forgiveness has everything to do with ourselves, with making peace and moving on. Forgiveness is everything about acknowledgement, recognizing the other person, their behavior, their pain. Forgiveness is about taking responsibility. Forgiveness is about letting go. Forgiveness is about moving on. Forgiveness is about grace. Forgiveness is everything about healing. Forgiveness is an ending.

An ending creates a beginning.

2 comments

  1. In the Bible, I title the verse in Galatians that speaks of reaping what we sow-consequences and in the first chapter of 1John verse 9 the forgiveness phenomenon. After implementing wrong decisions on sundry occasions, I have endured severe consequences and the emotional and psychological scars are very permeating. But the experience was well assimilated as a learning one-an episode of personal growth. Forgiveness is an excellent virtue, thus, an expedient learning experience as well for personal growth.

    A well written essay.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing. We have those moments of huge learning, often from our mistakes and missteps. I remember reading somewhere that forgiveness is a continual choice, like fitness. I love that analogy. It doesn’t just happen in one moment, one day. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom.

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