It’s been 13 years since a disagreement between a good colleague and myself sent me into a yearlong depression. While I recovered from the clinical depression, I replaced it with an elaborately resentful picture of events.
The details aren’t important, but at the time my colleague would have probably told you that I was being a selfish person and I might have said he was being too critical. And there it set in my mind for years, like a mental version of Dr. Seuss’ “The Zax.”
Seuss’ story is about a North-going Zax and a South-going Zax who meet on a narrow trail through the Prairie of Prax. Both refuse to step aside to allow the other passage. The Zax maintained their stubborn standoff so long that eventually a highway overpass is built around them. The story ends with the Zax still standing there “unbudged in their tracks.”
It was like this for me, and over the years, the hurt grew so much in my head that I created something much bigger than what it really was. In my revised version, he wasn’t just critical. He was a big liar out to get me. He was paranoid. He was … blah, blah, blah went my revised side of history.
Like a lawyer getting ready for a big case, I’d often rehearse my arguments in the shower or at a long stoplight. Your honor, began my imaginary argument, these are trumped up charges, the figment of a larger imagination. I submit to you … honk, honk, from the driver behind me and then it was back to the real world.
I’d done everything I knew to shake this larger-than-life-ghost. I’d spoken to counselors, prayed with pastors and even asked my pastor (father-in-law) to lead my family in a private forgiveness liturgy. In fact, much of what I’ve written about forgiveness and depression in this column has been vaguely related to this “little” upset.
But I knew — I just knew — that the only way to exorcise this critical ghost was to confront my colleague. Yet, I always had an excuse. It was too personal for a long distance phone call or he lived too far away for a visit. But a recent business trip brought me close enough to melt these excuses.
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So, I sent him a short email requesting a meeting. A week later, he graciously welcomed me into the office of the church he was pastoring. We shook hands and sat down to talk about the things that were most important to every person: faith, family and purpose. Gradually, the image I had created of him shrunk — but in a good way. He shrunk to the size God made us all.
He told me that he had no memory of details and we soon forgave each other. Of course, I’m not fooling myself. I know I have a tendency to romanticize things. I know it’s not likely that we’ll become the best of friends. But at the moment we forgave each other, a weight melted off my shoulders. I saw him as a fellow sojourner who is working out his salvation in this life, just as I am.
If you want to avoid living the life of a Zax, you might want to consider Jesus’ advice when he said, “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him — work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend.” While time may heal all things, I think the tone of Jesus’ words favors, “sooner more than later,” and definitely not 13 years later.