by Carolyn Solares
NOTE: This story by Carolyn Solares appears in the book Happiness Awaits You! by Carol Costa, Liisa Kyle, & Maggie TerryViale, 2010. Available on Amazon.
I had a huge, friendship-ending fight on a cross-country road trip with my best friend. We had been driving for ten hours in the middle of no-where. I was hungry and exhausted, always a disastrous combination for anyone around me. Accordingly, I became irrational, accusatory, and mean, falling into the same old patterns and bad habits I lugged with me into all of my relationships. This tantrum was especially ironic, as we had just completed a five-day retreat. So much for my emotional and spiritual growth. I was in crisis, once again spiraling into a full-blown neurotic meltdown.
My friend was understandably distraught and incredibly angry with me. She was so mad that she wanted to drive two-thousand miles home that same night. Somehow, I managed to reason with her that she had every right to be furious and hurt, but that it wasn’t a great idea to drive feeling that way through the mountains in the dark. So, we skipped dinner, found the only hotel with two rooms available, and escaped from each other for the night.
After taking my luggage to my room, I returned to the car to scrounge for some food. I was starving and distressed. That I had sabotaged this friendship horrified me. I pulled out a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread, and then set them aside as I grabbed a knife and a bag carrying my toothbrush. When I reached for the peanut butter, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I searched and searched. Hadn’t I just had my hand on it? Had I imagined I had found it? After ten minutes of stressful searching, I decided to go back to my hotel room before I became unglued. Feeling desperate, I resigned myself to eating some plain white bread and the smashed granola bar I had found on the car floor.
Upon returning to my room, I rummaged through all of my bags, but could not find the peanut butter. What did turn up, however, were two tubes of toothpaste. With a groan, I realized that my friend didn’t have any. Feeling sheepish, I left my room, knocked on her door, and slid the toothpaste under it without waiting for an answer. When I went back to my room, I discovered my door had locked behind me—and I didn’t have a key, just one more reminder that I had completely screwed up.
I loped downstairs to the front desk and asked for another key. Instead of going back upstairs to my room, I walked out the front door of the hotel. Without much thought, I decided to circle around the dark parking lot in one last search for the peanut butter.
Feeling as small and alone as I had ever felt, I suddenly thought to ask for help. I surprised myself by saying a prayer, which was not something I typically did, especially when I had been a complete jerk. My prayer went something like this: “God, I know I was a jerk and that I was totally wrong. I understand that and I feel truly terrible about it. But I’m getting pretty desperate here and I could really use the peanut butter.” I walked a few more feet, and then stopped in my tracks: in the middle of the hotel parking lot lay the jar of peanut butter.
At first, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; I was stunned. As I picked up the jar, I shook my head and said, “No way!” then a baffled, “Thank You.” The jar of peanut butter had rolled at least twenty feet from the car. Had I not given my friend the toothpaste, locked myself out of my room, and exited a different door of the hotel, I would never have found it. There was no way I could ignore this much synchronicity.
That night, I ate a lonely peanut butter sandwich in my room, wrote my friend a heartfelt note of apology, slipped the note under her door, and went to bed. In the morning, I woke up feeling better, but still sad and resigned. My friend was justifiably hurt and furious. I knew that I deserved whatever was coming to me; I’d just have to take my licks. Then I had a radical thought: What if I didn’t deserve to be punished? What if I deserved to be forgiven?
At that moment, something significant shifted in me and around me. After finding the peanut butter the night before, I was not opposed to asking for a little Divine help. So, I asked God to forgive me for having hurt my friend, understanding at last that I deserved forgiveness. Thirty seconds later, my friend knocked on my door. I didn’t have to say anything; she had already forgiven me. We packed up our things and continued West on our cross-country boondoggle.
In the days that followed the Peanut Butter Miracle, I began to see how I had withheld forgiveness because I never considered that I deserved it myself. Since I didn’t deem myself worthy of forgiveness—and often thought I deserved to be punished—I couldn’t see that anyone else deserved to be forgiven. I didn’t discriminate in applying this rule; I was an equal opportunity grudge-holder. Like a sack of rocks, I dragged my projection and un-forgiveness into all of my relationships.
What I withheld from other people, I also withheld from myself. Not forgiving myself, or anyone else, prevented me from seeing the love that other people had for me. It blocked me from seeing the love I had too. And I have to admit that sack of rocks had become really heavy.
True forgiveness requires us to open our hearts and let go of the past. For a long time, I had absolutely no idea how to open my heart this way. Thankfully, a lowly jar of peanut butter finally cut through my defenses and pride. When I most needed to be forgiven was not when I was feeling great. I needed it most when I was feeling low, alone, and ashamed.
Sure, my prayers and mental dialogue are still often along the lines of: “I am willing to be willing (to be willing) to forgive this person.” I also have to remember that includes me. To my amazement, even these reluctant pleas provide enough of an opening. While I have swallowed a fair amount of pride learning how to forgive, it doesn’t suck nearly as much as I had feared. My own experiences in being forgiven remind me that when we offer forgiveness without judgment or strings attached, we lighten the loads of everyone.