31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 11: Forgive the Unforgiving

confessionalI love my job, working with authors to help them express themselves with eloquence and creativity. An editor is part coach, part taskmaster, part encourager, part critic, and part intercessor. At its best, the author-editor relationship is based on trust and mutual respect.

Of course, once in a while — thankfully, only rarely — something goes wrong. A misunderstanding occurs, or an ego gets bruised. In one memorable instance in my career, an author complained to my boss about me so vociferously, I could have lost my job. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so shocked and betrayed; just days before, we had been together and she had thanked me for the work I had done on her project.

For weeks I puzzled over the injustice. How could I have so completely misread the situation? In the end, I decided to forgive; the author’s actions, though ignoble, had ultimately induced me to try something new. I wrote her a note, letting her know that I harbored no ill-will. (She did not reply, but I was at peace.)

Choosing love and choosing forgiveness is never a wasted effort. Life isn’t always fair. Good guys don’t always win, and bad guys don’t always get caught right away. But forgiveness levels the playing field in important ways. We may never know how that choice affects other people, but we can be absolutely sure it will help us.

To be honest, I haven’t always taken the high road. I’ve harbored resentments and wasted hours of precious sleep, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation — at work, at home, or with relationships with extended family members. Each time I’ve decided to “forgive the unforgivable,” God has changed the landscape of my heart, forging paths, building bridges, and leading me beside peaceful, rejuvenating waters. I’ve also discovered . . .

*  Forgiveness is a journey, not a destination. Every day, another step.

*  Forgiveness is best expressed in words. Hearing the words spoken aloud (to the one you’re forgiving, in confession, or reading a letter aloud to an empty chair) often “breaks” the power of resentment or bitterness in a way that simple mental assent may not.

*  Forgiving ourselves can be the most difficult part of the process — and the most necessary. Try to give yourself as much latitude as you would give your best friend, if she had done the same thing.

*  Forgiving and feeling goodwill toward those who have hurt us are two very different things. Yet feelings are not facts, and sometimes negative emotions like resentment and bitterness need to be forcibly uprooted. Praying can be a good way to release residual anger. If that is not possible, try praying to be willing to pray for that person. Spiritual health, like physical health, is a matter of small choices, made daily.

Whom do you need to forgive this week?

 

 

Space Mountain Schadenfreude: Road Trip Ruminations

If you want the full Disney World experience, it’s probably best to avoid the park entirely between Christmas and New Years. Sure, Magic Kingdom has “extended hours” (8 a.m. to 1 a.m.), but that just means you have to deal with a bajillion loud, pushy people for a full 18 hours instead of the usual 14.

Fortunately, my favorite rides are not the most popular … I can sit on the teacups and ride through “It’s a Small World” for hours. See?

small world 1 small world 2 small world 3

But eventually I had to relent, and go with the rest of the family to stand in line at Space Mountain. An hour of nail-biting anticipation (thank goodness for the FastPass), for nine minutes of pitch-dark, neck wrenching fun.

As I said, we had gotten a FastPass, which in theory meant that we could return at the appointed time, bypassing the main line and moving to the front of the queue. But when we arrived at 10:15 (p.m.), the lady directed us to the end of the L-O-N-G line to the left. THAT was the FastPass line. I reached the end of the line just as a teenager with long, dark hair and an attitude to match arrived. With a smirk, she elbowed her way ahead of me.

Being a good Christian and all, I decided to ignore it. Then she called for her posse, who all jumped ahead of us. Eight of them. (I counted.) Then, her mother and grandmother (old enough to know better), who had a friend. Twelve extra bodies. By this time, my patience was depleting rapidly, but I finally decided not to make a scene. (Color me wussy.)

Then we got to the head of the line . . . and their entire group was turned away, because their FastPass had a later time on it. HAH! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. (What’s English for “schadenfreude”?)

Sometimes life is like that. When you rush and push ahead, sometimes you get sent back to the end of the line, bypassing those you’ve mistreated along the way. Not always . . . but sometimes, the universe teaches you a lesson.

Even at Disney World.

Going up . . . the gift of spiritual authority

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, when the Lord returned to heaven in his glorified body.  “All authority on heaven and earth has been given unto Me . . .  now go unto the whole world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Mt 28:16-20).

The gift of spiritual authority, passed from Jesus to his apostles and on to their successors, and the corresponding teaching/obeying dynamic that characterizes the spiritual relationship between pastors and their flock, can be a rare and wonderful thing.

Unfortunately, the idea of owing obedience to anyone is an increasingly foreign concept to most of us. Our parents obeyed their parents without question; as adults they deferred to authority figures such as pastors, teachers, and community leaders simply because of their position in society.

How that cultural paradigm has shifted!

Children regard authority figures with skepticism, even suspicion as their parents believe themselves to be their own final authority on everything from political sensibilities to personal ethics to moral values. “That might be right for you, but I don’t see it that way . . .” is irrefutable proof.   

The problem, of course, is that so long as we are our own plumbline, we can never know for sure when we are the ones who need to adjust our perspective. “Be ye not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” We hear it in church or read it in quiet time, and never stop to consider the possibility of just how, precisely, we are to know what parts of us are still in need of personal transformation.

It’s easy to see the flaws and frailties of those around us, and know instinctively how much better off they would be if they would only change, how much better off we all would be if they would just have a “come to Jesus” moment and turn their lives over to God.  And so we pray, and ask for divine intervention.

And all the while it is our own hearts that are most in need of transformation. That person has been placed in our lives precisely because  God wanted to show us just how far from perfection we can be. Today in his homily the priest told a story about a father whose son was severely developmentally disabled, who somehow got a place on the school baseball team. At one game the team was losing so badly that the coach told the father he would put his son up to bat at the end of the inning.

When it was time for the boy to face the pitcher, the team was down three runs. They needed a homerun to win the game. The kid swung, and missed. Then a teammate came up behind him, and helped him hit. For some unfathomable reason, the other team purposely let him get on first base, then the next and the next. This small, spastic kid won the game. “Sometimes I get mad, and I ask God how he can be ‘perfect,’ and still create someone like my son,” admitted the father. “But in that moment, I realize that with his life, he was creating that perfection in other people — because of how they responded to him, they were given a chance to be more perfect than they otherwise would be.”

Who is that person in your life? That emotionally stunted, morally obtuse, intellectually clueless individual whose very existence causes your innards to twist?  Someone . . . whom God has entrusted the responsibility to be the thorn in your side, forcing you to grow in loving perfection not because of their example, but despite it?

Heavenly Father, take the blinders from my eyes. Let me see the beauty beneath the brokenness.

Guide me, step by step, towards the moment when at last I see you, and understand it all.   

Missteps and Mercy

These past few days a series of events have led me think about the human tendency to make mistakes that require us to extend grace and mercy to others, just as God extends that grace and mercy to us when we deliberately choose sin. The primary difference is intentionality:

The thoughtless action (or omission)

The unintended offense

The hastily spoken (and poorly chosen) word
While these things do wound and grieve other people, we tend to gloss them over with, “But that’s not what I MEANT! That’s not what I INTENDED!”

Nevertheless, these “slips” do contain destructive seeds, capable of wounding and alienating those we hold dear.

This week I’ve found myself on both sides of the banana peel. I sent an impulsive “Valentine” to a few friends, which a chance comment from my sister made me realize that it might have struck some as suggestive. I saw it as a playful romp down memory lane … then, after the fact, realized that it might have struck some as simply … TMI. Oops.

Yesterday was especially hard. Two people, in the span of an hour, had me in tears because what I had needed from them and what I received were so completely and unexpectedly different. (I probably could have handled one, but not both.) In the first instance, I felt additional salt rubbed into the wound when this person turned the tables and informed me that it was I, not her, who needed to apologize. (I did, but later I felt so manipulated that I just got angry.)

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive
those who trespass against us.”

The thing about trespasses is … well, you don’t always realize when you’ve invaded someone else’s space, do you? And yet the offense is no less real for this lack of intention. What a great opportunity, then, for us to show mercy and do what we can to mend that breach.

  • Sometimes, that means letting something go, for the sake of the relationship.
  • Sometimes, it means giving the other person the benefit of the doubt.
  • Sometimes, it means adjusting the nature of the relationship itself.
Lord Jesus, thank you that when you came to earth to show us the way to heaven, you never held anything back. You gave everything you had, even life itself, to remind us of the Father’s mercy. Help us to imitate our Heavenly Father in a more intentional way, this day and every day. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!