Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Forgiveness

The word of the morning is forgiveness.  I've been thinking about it for many reasons, but mostly because of the events of the last several days. If I had had a loved one killed in or as a result of one of those planes on September 11, 2001, I know exactly what my relation to this question of forgiveness would be.  If one of my children had been killed in one of the two resulting wars of that day, I also know what that relationship would be.  It would be personal. The loss would be personal, felt every sad day of my life, so the need to forgive those who brought it on me would also be personal. However, this isn't the case for me.  I have what many of us have--a sense that the world has changed, or a national sense that our country was violated, or...--but that isn't quite the same.

But let's take this away from the large arena into the place where we actually spend most of our lives.
The question on my mind today is how to forgive someone for a sin not against oneself. 
I think of the hurts done to my mother by her in-laws.  Now some of you might find it strange that I would start with this, considering my own complicated relationship with her, but I always felt very protective of her with others.  It was one thing for me to struggle with her, and a far, far different thing to see someone else treat her like rubbish repeatedly.  I saw what it did to her always fragile psyche, and the disregard of that fragility. Sure, my grandmother was critical of everyone, but with my mother she there was a special brand of cruelty.  It was hard to forgive.

I think of the teasing J endured in middle school.  I sometimes wanted to swoop in and call names back at those little punks who continually picked on him.  And I think of E in high school, handling whatever her basketball coach asked of her, with grace and equanimity.  I wanted to swoop in and tell the coach what I thought, to demand things change for our daughter (like so many other parents did). But E would square her shoulders and say everything was okay. The coach, of course, thought that E was the most mature teenager she'd ever coached, and that we'd done a brilliant job, but inside, I spent a whole lot of time seething, and NOT forgiving her for banking on E's maturity. Over and over as a parent, especially, I've watched one of my children be hurt by someone else, and even when they've come to terms with the offense, the slight--the sin is what it's called--it's harder for me. And it isn't even a sin against me.

But God does this.  That is, God forgives every sin, even those not against Himself.  Of course, some will argue that every sin is actually against God, and they're right. He forgives those sins we commit against our neighbor because they actually hurt Him as well. After all, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these you did not do for me." (Matthew 25: 45) Perhaps we should stop looking at sin so dispassionately.  That is, we should stop thinking that we are only responsible for forgiving only those things that actually affect us.  We are the Body.  What touches one of us touches all of us.  In a family, this is completely true.  I know this.  I MUST forgive those who hurt my children, those who--in the past--hurt my mother or siblings or husband, exactly as I forgive those who hurt me.  If my arm is hurt, it isn't disconnected to my shoulder, but attached.  My not acknowledging the need to forgive doesn't mean that need isn't there.  The sin has been done, and in order for wholeness to return, forgiveness must be practiced.  I think this is especially true in marriage.  The hurts done to Beve I must also forgive. 

As I've been writing this, it's been a revelation.  I've thought of several situations from my past  that I haven't forgiven a person for.  Sadly, there's a longer list in my head of sins done to my loved ones than offenses done to me.  That alone tells me I have an equally long list of people I need to forgive for those beloveds.  When I began this post, I thought I would get to the end and actually say the exact opposite of what I did.  Because sins done to others don't affect us, they are harder to forgive.  But the truth is, they do affect us. As John Donne's famous poem says:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 


So, if you'll forgive me, I have a list to go work through with God.  It could be a long morning.

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