I was in the breakaway group of six riders. Thirty miles into a 57-mile road race through the Buffalo National River area just southwest of Harrison, Arkansas, we were sailing down the backside of Sherman Mountain.
This was my first season of road bike racing and on my 23rd birthday, I could hardly think of a better way to spend it.
The main pack had stuck together up until the first major climb before it started to splinter. A select few of us made it to the top in the lead group and the fact I was there gave me every confidence that we might win.
Nothing could stop me. I was having a great day and the idea of my first win, on my birthday no less, was not beyond reality. Twisting and turning down the mountain, my bike handling skills were seriously tested. I didn’t have the world’s best equipment to take me down this mountain, but I’d been on enough adventures on my Trek 2.1 that I knew she could handle a touch of speed down a mountainside.
The next turn presented itself with warnings, put there by the race organizers, to slow down. Warnings to suppress my racing instinct of speed for safety’s sake. I lightly feathered the brakes supposing that was enough to allow me to swing ’round the corner and missile into the coming valley before the next big climb began.
But my light braking wasn’t enough. Right after the apex, I knew my line was off. I was headed straight for the guardrails and had too much momentum to change course quickly. I panicked and broke hard. My back wheel locked up and, for what felt like life in slow motion, I drifted, Fast and Furious-style, leaving skid marks on the microscopic shoulder this mountain road provided.
I narrowly missed flying head over heels past the guard rails down the slope on the opposite side. Who knows what was waiting for me if I had, but it would not have been a happy birthday.
By God’s grace, I didn’t crash and I was still in the race. But now was no time to dwell on the mistake if I wanted any chance of winning.
Forgiveness gets a bad rap. In a world where humans can know one another’s deepest vulnerabilities and how to take advantage of them, the idea of letting them off the hook sounds criminal at best.
I’ll get straight to the point. That’s not what it means to forgive. Just like taking ownership and responsibility is not necessarily the same thing as incurring guilt that, say, an offending teammate deserves, forgiveness is not the same as acquittal.
In fact, forgiveness is not even based on whether the other person apologizes. Consider this: if you were to stack up offenses in one column and the times your offenders have sincerely asked for forgiveness from you specifically for those offenses, is that anywhere close to a 1:1 relationship? Do you see that changing any time soon?
Didn’t think so.
And if you hold on to that gap between offense and repentance from others, it will eat you alive. Not forgiving means your offender wins.
Forgiveness is the only way to remedy that discrepancy.
Forgiveness is also not the same thing as letting down your boundaries and letting someone use you as a walking mat. Good, firm boundaries are not mutually exclusive to forgiving.
It is also not the same thing as reconciliation. That takes two. Forgiveness only takes you.
It’s a funny thing, the language we use and the effect it has. I work as a PSYOP officer in the Army Reserves and one of the things we’re trained on is messaging’s impact. Humans consume words and messages like food. When we read news, watch videos, and scroll through pictures, we say we are “consuming” content.
The things we consume change us.
It’s mysterious with words because we can’t see where the body metabolizes them. But the effect is still profound. One statement can be as powerful as a spell or incantation uttered in the wizarding world.
“I forgive you,” may well be the most powerful three-word incantation that breaks the spell of resentment and bitterness. And you don’t even have to say it to your offender or let them know you ever came to that decision.
But to say those words with truth and sincerity is like the process of bathing myself after my bike wreck I recounted a few blog posts back. Covered in road rash and gravel, slipping into a soapy, hot tub was excruciatingly painful, but the alternative was to remain covered in filth and unhealed wounds.
The second of two major climbs were underway during the 2013 edition of the Tour de Hills road race. I was still pretty shaken up from the near-catastrophic wreck I barely avoided just minutes ago. But I still had work to do.
If I kept dwelling on my mistake, I couldn’t keep my focus where it needed to be, on the race I was still a part of! As Tony Robbins says, “Where the focus goes, the energy flows.”
If I wanted to win, there was no use in putting my energy into a past mistake. I had to allow that to go, decide I would address it once the race was over, and learn from it in order to not make that mistake again. But as the lead pack was shaved down to two, me and my new rival, all my energy had to be routed through my legs, into the pedals, with one goal.
We zoomed past Hill Top Bible Church with just two miles left to go. We’d completely dropped the rest of the pack. He attacked from behind and I did my best to respond. Something in my drivetrain was making a weird noise and my shifting wasn’t working quite like I wanted. Apparently, I missed something in my pre-race checklist. I had trouble keeping up; his catapult flung him 100 meters up the road, and I was cooked.
I crossed the line in second place—my first podium finish in a road race with a modest payout to boot—and had a goodly laugh with my new friend as we basked in the glory of the day.