"Atonement returns you to right relations with the world around you."
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I composed a final letter to say goodbye, dropped it in the mail, and then deleted all traces of the old and dear friend from my life.
Even if I wanted to connect, it had become an unlikely task. After deleting their contact information from my phone and disconnecting from their social media accounts, trying to reach out would be a challenge.
And that was just how it needed to be, for all efforts to reconcile had been rebuffed and attempts to do so only did more harm than good.
It’s said that a calm sea never made a skilled sailor, but using the metaphor for this friendship found our ship unworthy of weathering the storm and it had become time to abandon ship and go our separate ways.
The Best Hope for Reconciliation
We cannot go through life without making mistakes—it’s simply an inherent part of the human experience. Skillfully navigating life is not merely a matter of avoiding mistakes, but rather a matter of responding well to mistakes when they arise.
When a mistake is caused by others, forgiveness is a path towards reconciliation; but if a mistake is caused by you, then atonement is your best hope for returning to right relations.
In the book Change Your World, John Maxwell says hope has two beautiful daughters: Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are and Courage to step up and do something about it.
And this is why atonement is the best response to making a mistake, for it doesn’t just acknowledge things aren’t quite right, but it also demonstrates you can do better by courageously entering the arena of action—accepting full responsibility and altering your behavior moving forward.
Several years ago, for me, this meant being willing to walk away from a dear friendship. To repurpose Walt Whitman’s suggestion that “we convince by our presence,” in this case I hoped to convince by my absence—revealing how far I was willing to go while also letting go of attachment to the outcome.
A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, and with time I have learned to be thankful for the storm that foundered our ship—for it has made me a much more skillful sailor of friendships.
What have you done to atone for your past mistakes? How have these efforts impacted your relationships? Have they made you a more skillful sailor?
Raising a Sunken Ship
Ending here is sufficient for delivering the point of this story—the importance of making changes to atone for mistakes—but I would be remiss if I left out the happy ending:
Two years after walking away from the friendship, I received a call from an unknown number.
Answering the call, I heard an old familiar voice. A friendly voice—much friendlier than the last time I had heard it.
It’s often said that time can heal all wounds, and while I’m not convinced this is necessarily true in every case, what time does offer is space to reflect, process, and grow, so long as we use it wisely.
In our case, time was just what we needed to raise our friendship and begin our journey again.
Only this time, as much more skillful sailors.
Jonas Cain, M.Ed. is a storyteller, magician, musician, and facilitator of fascination on a mission to help you experience abiding joy.