Hand them back?
Throw them at someone?
Or my personal favourite – crack open the gin.
Sometimes life sucks.
You don’t get any choice in the matter. Life has handed you the proverbial lemons.
The question is what to do with them?
I got asked a few weeks ago why I believe in God. In pondering it over later I came to the conclusion God has never let me down.
People have; God hasn’t.
When people let you down it’s crushing. You may have bared your soul to them, trusted them with secrets, invested time in them. They in turn have callously disregarded your investment. They have trodden it into the dirt. They were your closest confidante perhaps, friends with whom you spent a great deal of time. You can’t understand their actions, and they appear to have carried on their lives as though you never existed.
I imagine most people have been there. I can think of friendships in which I had invested time, energy, conversation. Maybe you were bullied, or someone spread rumours about you. The friendship feels like it was for nothing, you feel betrayed, hurt and inconsequential. There were different things I could do.
I could have sought revenge, spread rumours perhaps; in essence squirt the lemon in their eyes. You did that to me, but I can do that to you. Worse. And revenge would no doubt have felt good. I’d have got them back for the pain they caused me. But where there was one hurting person, there would now be two. They would hurt as much as me, but what would I gain? Really? Nothing. Who’s to say they wouldn’t then come fighting back and hurt me more?
Instead I could just hold the lemons. Not squirt them in their eyes, but squeeze them in my hands. Every time my hands became sticky, or the juice got into a paper cut I could remind myself how much pain I had suffered. I could relive it, angrily muttering their name and the wrongs done to me. I could name my lemon – grudge. To bear a grudge is an incredibly sad thing. The phrase ‘to hold a grudge‘ sums it up – while my hands are full of lemons (or my heart is full of grudges) I can’t take hold of anything else. To take hold of opportunity or freedom and happiness, I need to let go. I have never been able to hold a grudge. I find it really difficult to hold onto that hurt, I just can’t do it. Even as a child I’d be stomping upstairs, slamming the doors, but fairly soon after (in my memories anyway), a few apologies later, it was all behind us.
Now you may never get an apology. Maybe they didn’t realise they hurt you. Maybe they just don’t care. Maybe it was even deliberate.
Not bearing a grudge doesn’t mean you have to trust that person. It means you choose not to hold onto the hurt, more like throwing the lemons away. In fact you may be wise not to forget you once had the lemons, but in a way that reminds you not to return to the place from whence you got them.
By far the best idea, is to make lemonade. To take something bitter and make good out of it. That’s all well and good, some might say, but you haven’t experienced the depth of hurt. Lemons without sugar leave a bitter taste, reminding yourself of the events. A favourite (stolen) phrase of mine is that bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. The instigator of lemons might not give two pence that you are bitter. So who are you hurting? Yourself or them?
My best friend, my husband, left me. I have railed, screamed and shouted, used choice language and been incredibly angry, even pretty recently (sorry Gem). But I hope I’m not bitter. Anger is healthy. It’s ok to get angry at injustice, at circumstance. But if I continue to lick the lemon juice and stay bitter, I’m just going to keep that taste forever. How can I go forward into something better if I keep that bitterness?
The best advice is also the hardest though. Forgive them.
In the Bible Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive, ‘perhaps seven Lord?’ I imagine Peter felt pretty magnanimous – I’m not forgiving once guys, but up to seven times.
“Not up to seven times,” says Jesus. In my imaginings, Peter does a mini fist pump at this point and looks around at the others with a ‘how holy am I?’ benevolent smile and relief that it’s not quite that as many as seven times. Until Jesus continues “seventy times seven!”
At this point Peter possibly falters. So many times?
That’s how many times it seems to take…
I don’t know about you but I’ve often found that I’ve thrown the lemons away, skipping on merrily, then suddenly like a boomerang, they’re back. I didn’t want them back, they are just back. And so I begin to rid myself of them again.
Through gritted teeth at first I snarl out ‘Lord, bless X…’ and it’s nigh on impossible. I spit it out whilst thinking ‘but not really God, don’t actually bless them’.
Eventually, it gets a little easier.
‘Lord, bless X,’ I say without venom, while thinking ‘but not too much, just a bit. And not with that thing I’ve asked you for God, I want that.’
After a while, you find that you don’t mind quite as much as you did before if God actually did bless them. At least you’re no longer asking him to not bless them in your head while you speak the contrary with your mouth.
And after a (long, long) time, you might find you are actually pleased when something good happens for them. You never know, you may actually rejoice for them. Even when they get the very thing you want.
Yes, the lemons come back. But the process is quicker.
I’m not saying I’m especially magnanimous. I wish I was. I come back round to needing to forgive again, but there is longer between it each time. I find the lemons make lemonade. It’s not an easy choice, and it’s one you make repeatedly. Focusing on forgiveness has helped me not to be bitter. Yes, sometimes I’m still angry. But I want to be better than bitter.