ONE – 5 On Forgiveness

“Someone I’ve already forgiven:”

It occurs to me that I don’t really forgive per se.  If you’ve wronged me and then apologized, I may accept your apology, but unless you follow it up with action to convince me that you won’t do whatever it is again, I’ll probably cut you out of my life.

It’s too easy to say “I’m sorry.”  That isn’t enough.  You may indeed be sorry you did or said whatever.  But your words aren’t enough to convince me you won’t do or say it again.  Words are essentially meaningless.  You’re sorry?  Then prove it to me.

I work with someone who apologizes ALL THE TIME.  “I’m sorry” is her favorite phrase.  If she think she’s in your way, if you excuse yourself to get past her behind the counter, if you need to rinse out something in the sink and you have to wait for her to finish rinsing something, she’s sorry.  Why?  She hasn’t done anything wrong except BE.  What is she apologizing for?  Her very existence?  The fact that her needs in the course of performing her job might occasionally come into conflict with yours?  Her “I’m sorrys” are meaningless. 

So if you’ve offended me and said you’re sorry, I might accept it at face value and move on.  Once.  Pull the same stunt again, and I’m done with you.  You won’t have to teach me the lesson twice.  If you’ve shown me who you are, trust me, I’ll get it.

If you go out of your way to hurt me, to be vindictive or cruel for your own selfish reasons, you can apologize, but you won’t get a second chance.  I’ll keep my distance.

In the past couple of years, as I might have mentioned, I developed a new favorite motto.  “I’m done.”  I may give and give and give and try and try and try.  I may bang my head against the wall for years trying to make a relationship or a situation work.  But when I wake up and see it’s never going to work, when I’ve given all I’ve got to give and it’s changed nothing, I’m done. 

At that point, I’ve got nothing left and even though I may still care, I won’t put any more of myself or my energy into it. 

I know Jesus said in answer to how often one must forgive one’s brother “Seven time seventy.”  But I don’t think he says you have to forget.  And I don’t think he says you have to keep setting yourself up for insult or offense.  You can forgive as often as you want.  But along with that you might change your own behavior so your forgiveness isn’t necessary.

On Forgiveness – Part II

While mocking this book (ONE) at work, I discussed the thoughts above with a co-worker and in the course of our discussion, it occurred to me, what if the person I haven’t or can’t forgive is myself?

What if every time you hold a grudge against someone else, it’s more about holding a grudge against yourself?  You won’t let go.  That person who wronged you touched a chord in you, probably something you’ve been hanging onto since childhood and you can’t let go.  You can’t forgive yourself and you can’t forgive others.

What if Jesus’ reference to forgiveness meant learning to forgive yourself?  Maybe you’re your own ‘brother’ to whom he refers.  If you can’t forgive yourself, maybe he can’t forgive you either.

I try to think of what I should forgive myself for, the things I hang onto and sometimes cry about late at night.  The secrets I don’t share, the regrets I have.  Mostly, what I find I can’t forgive is what I perceive as my own stupidity or immaturity or naivete which led to choices that ultimately were not right for me but which I now must live with.  It seems like it should be easy to forgive myself for not knowing everything I needed to know at the time or for the arrogance of youth.  But it isn’t.

I don’t perceive myself as someone who’s mean or cruel, who goes about intentionally inflicting harm on others.  Mostly what all of us do is inflict harm on ourselves.  What was the line in that movie Where The Heart Is?  The Stockard Channing character says something like.  “Most of us aren’t looking to hurt anyone else.  We’re happy just hurting ourselves.”  Isn’t that true of most of us?