The Law of Relativity

I had a conversation with a friend the other day that resulted in hurt feelings-my hurt feelings. Sometimes you can feel stress or tension in a relationship before a hurtful conversation happens. Not me, not this time. This experience came completely out of the blue. I felt belittled, judged, inadequate, and I began to question if this friend had ever had any good feelings toward me. It was all I could think about. I couldn’t concentrate on taking care of my children or my home, or on anything except how hurt I felt, and how unfair it was that I had been treated badly. This experience was becoming all-consuming, and within an hour I could see that it was hurting me and my family-I was short-tempered with my kids and grouchy. I found myself caught between wanting to stew in the negativity of the experience, and wanting to be free of it. But for my family’s sake, I knew I needed to free myself.

Two days later, I was feeling better, but I still was having a difficult time letting go of the whole thing. My feelings had been hurt! I didn’t deserve to be treated the way I had been! I wanted vengeance of some sort, even if it was just to say, “I don’t want to be your friend anymore!” I had a sense that I just needed to let the whole thing go, but I resisted it. Letting go would be hard. And it would mean I would have to let go of my hurt feelings without getting any sympathy for them.

Then another dear friend spoke to our women’s group at church, telling of an experience where her family had been offended. It was such a serious offense that they rightfully sought help through the justice system, only to have that system fail them. She and her family had spent the last five-and-a-half years working through the emotion and trauma of that experience. And even though the offender was never brought to justice, even though the damage couldn’t be undone, she knew that she had to forgive. For her sake, for her family’s sake, she had to forgive this person and let go of the hurt of the experience.

Suddenly, my hurt feelings seemed so silly. Had I been offended? Yes. Was the pain of my experience real? Yes. But someone hurt my feelings. I sat watching my dear friend speak of the joy and peace that came from letting go of this offense, knowing that it was more than her feelings that had been hurt. And I was having trouble forgiving someone who said something I thought was unkind?

The Law of Relativity reminds us that things are only good or bad when compared with something else. Suddenly, my horrible experience was looking pretty good. My feelings had been hurt. My friend’s family had been seriously offended by more than just words, and then had been failed by the justice system. Who had it better, really? And if my dear friend could forgive such an egregious offense and I couldn’t let go of a hurtful conversation, well, then I was just being petty.

When things seem bad-and they may be bad-there is always someone else who is experiencing something worse. Remembering this helps us to see our experiences in a different light. We can start to be grateful. First, we may only be grateful that we don’t have someone else’s even worse experience to deal with. But then, if we look, we see that there is more to be thankful for. And the more we are thankful for, the better life becomes.

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