A few years ago I had a falling out with someone. We weren't good friends, but we had worked together on some ministry projects. She led most of the projects and I enjoyed working with her. But then I led a project, and she was unhappy with the results. When she told me just how unhappy she was, I was shocked. We shared harsh words. And we've never related in the same way since.
I replayed the situation over and over in my mind. At first anger would well up within me. Then disgust. Then I started to doubt the good interactions we'd had and the advice she'd given me from time to time. I was so upset that I began questioning every interaction we'd ever had. And while I didn't have any real ties to this woman outside these ministry contexts, I couldn't shake the shock of knowing it had all gone so wrong, so fast.
When my anger subsided—much later—I tried to grow from the situation. As I prayed about it, I felt God encouraging me to learn what I could, even if I never fully understood what had happened and why. I talked with others who had served with us, apologizing for how the conflict had affected them and asking for their honest feedback so I could improve. I also talked about the situation with a close friend, knowing she'd tell me the truth, no matter how difficult it was to say. These conversations helped me learn things that I could have done better in the situation and I took those lessons to heart. I worked on forgiving the woman, thanked God for my honest friends and ministry partners, and tried to move on.
And it worked … for a while.
A few months later, a year after our falling out, I saw the woman at a church event. We had our usual cordial greetings, then moved on to talk with other people. I thanked God that day for how he'd grown me through this situation. I was grateful that I no longer felt anger when I saw her. In fact, I was genuinely happy to see her.
A week later, though, everything changed when I received a hurtful letter from her. Even though I'd been learning as a result of our falling out, it appeared she'd only grown angrier. I couldn't believe that the year had been so drastically different for the two of us.
Despite all the work God had done in my life that year, immediately that letter produced fresh anger in me. In fact, it was even worse the second time around! She attacked me personally in the letter, and my mind kept returning to the hurtful things she'd written. Rather than forgiveness, I began thinking negative thoughts: Maybe she isn't worthy of forgiveness. Maybe it's not worth my effort. Worse, though, I became angry with God: Why did I do all that work just to have to do it again? I began to avoid spending time with God because I knew what he'd tell me to do: Forgive her … again.