Tuesday, April 3, 2012
A Change of Heart
Forgiveness is a tricky thing. At least it seems that way from where I'm standing.
I'm the kind of person who almost never gets offended with strangers. I make excuses for them. The guy who cut me off in traffic is probably on his way to the hospital where his daughter is dying. The lady who was rude to me in the grocery store probably found out this morning that her dog has cancer. I make up all sorts of tragic stories in my head to excuse stranger's behavior. (I'm a writer. It's what I do.)
But family members are harder. I know no one is dying. And I assume that I know what's going on in their heads. Which means it's harder to forgive them for snapping at me.
And sometimes it's so much more than snapping.
I have forgiven people in the past for some pretty big things. Ok- really big. At least I think I have. I can look back at some horrendous stuff people did to me or my kids without feeling angry. I'm sad, wish it hadn't happened, and am confused by what would have motivated their actions. I can even honestly say that I hope they are doing well in life and are not suffering for what they did. Is that forgiveness? And if so, how did I get there?
Because-- from where I am standing now, in relation to my children and me being abused-- that looks like a fantasy. An impossible dream. Like wishing I could shake Tinkerbell over my head, rain down fairy dust and fly to Never-Never Land. Sure it would be cool- but let's be realistic.
I grew up hearing about "The Steps to Repentance." Meaning, what you need to do to fix- internally and externally- the problems you cause in your life and other's lives. They were pretty straight forward.
1. Recognize you did something wrong. (If you didn't hurt someone, there's nothing to fix.)
2. Feel bad about it. (If you're happy about hurting them, there's no point pretending you want to fix it.)
3. Apologize to whomever you hurt, and accept responsibility for your actions. (This might include yourself, someone else, God, the world, your cat...)
4. Do whatever you can to fix the problem you caused. (Sometimes it's impossible to fix-- but do your best. Usually the harder it is to fix, the bigger the problem was.)
5. Don't do it again.
But what if I'm not the one who did something wrong? Are there steps to Forgiveness?
This last weekend was General Conference for my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (aka Mormons) It's one of my favorite weekends of the year because we get to stay home and watch church on TV (or the internet) in our pjs while eating popcorn. But best of all-- the speakers are truly inspired. Some of The Best sermon's I've ever heard have been during General Conference.
On Sunday morning, Dieter Uchtdorf said he had felt impressed to speak about the importance if forgiving others. (Click his name to see his talk.)
He gave some specific ideas on how to go about this. They were things I already knew. But they're hard! Really hard.
He suggested praying for my enemy. (My mind: Dear God, please let this man have a horrible life. No, wait. That's not what President Uchtdorf meant. Well- give him whatever blessings he deserves, and we both know that is the afore mentioned really miserable life. No, wait. This isn't helping. <sigh> Ok. Whatever. Please bless him with good things. I guess. If you have to.)
He suggested doing kind things for my enemy. (Really? Are you kidding me? I tried that for over 20 years and look where it got me! I really don't think so.)
He suggested remembering that I am not perfect either. And that I hope people and God will forgive me. (My mind: Yes, well... Ok. that's true. Actually, that's a very good point. Maybe I should reconsider the last couple of items.)