"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." Lewis B. Smedes, author, ethicist, theologian
My husband and I just returned today from a trip to Ennis, Montana. John was fly-fishing with one of our neighbors.
In the truck on the way home today, somehow, we turned to stories of times we had been hurt. Our stories included painful betrayals, deep lack of appreciation when we had worked hard on others’ behalf, hurtful name-calling, and rejection.
John shared with us that one situation pained him so much that when he read the offending person's obituary, he said something like “I celebrate that evil woman’s death – the world is a better place." Nevertheless, even after many years, he felt no peace.
John decided to do something about his pain.
John brought the person to mind and silently told himself that this person, let’s call her "Hilda," who had caused him much pain was a human being too. Hilda, like every person, suffered herself. She had fears, longings, aching wounds, stifled gifts.
John reasoned from his heart… had he experienced the same life Hilda had, he’d probably be very like Hilda. And, at her core, underneath all her own suffering, Hilda, was essentially a good and kind person. Even loving.
Then John turned to himself. Perhaps he HAD failed her. Perhaps he had allowed his pride to hide his shortcomings from himself. Even so, he had done the best he could with what he had (his mother’s mantra which we have adopted).
Though Hilda had died, John silently and sincerely asked for her forgiveness. John’s heart lifted, he felt tremendous relief.
I loved John’s approach to dealing with his pain. Thinking of the offending person as a human being, acknowledging her humanity in terms of fears, longings, aching wounds, stifled gifts, and her core of goodness. Then looking at himself - being accountable while understanding that he honestly did the best he could, accepting himself and asking for her forgiveness.
These conversations of being hurt by "mean people" set the stage for us sharing about the times we had hurt others, been the mean people ourselves.
Some stuff we did were seriously mean pranks it seemed to us now, but we thought they were in all good fun at the time. Some of our hurtful actions happened because we weren’t thinking of how our actions affected others at all.
When John shared the details of one thing he had done, the neighbor's eyes widened and his mouth opened. "That's awful!" he gasped. John nodded in agreement.
Then John shared how he had dealt with his guilt and shame as he thought about some of his past. Again, he recalled everyone he could think of whom he had harmed. He said in his mind what he had done to each one. The tears flowed. (It's a curious and paradoxical situation that when we fully accept ourselves that we are most capable of change).
Then John silently asked for each person's forgiveness. He prayed for forgiveness. Again, he felt tremendous relief.
At that point, our neighbor said. “You know when we sometimes talk about spirituality. It’s just kinda out there. Abstract. But this stuff punches me in the gut. And".....then he wordlessly pounded his fist against his chest.
I think we were both rather awed and intrigued by John’s honest, hard inner work. Nevertheless, neither our neighbor nor I seemed miserable enough to give up some of our grudges. Yet.
Somewhat strange behavior on my part since I clearly know the research around the benefits to our health and well-being associated with forgiveness. I want to cling to my injustices. No matter my own shortcomings. Still. Not budging....yet.
We turned and looked outside at the orchards and corn we were passing…signals that home was not far now.
Maybe it was the authentic sharing, the intimate stories of humanity, of us. Perhaps it was the excitement of knowing some can slay their most vicious dragons. Become free.
Seemed like the weather warmed and the colors mellowed. Despite the terrifying news out there in the world including much saber-rattling, I couldn't help smiling at the richness. I felt tougher and also more tender. And.....we were getting closer to home.
How might we experiment with sharing our stories - including those of forgiveness, meanness, victory, guilt, stubbornness, rejection, despair, and fear and journey together toward home and to The Good Life?