“Karma” for Catholics?

what dreams may comeToday on Facebook I vented a teeny bit — as obliquely as possible — about  someone who has been an unspeakable thorn in my side.

“What is the Catholic equivalent of karma?” I asked, tongue in cheek. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to ask, “… the English equivalent of schadenfreude,” but then my grasp of German is another sore subject.

In reality, I realize there is no such thing as karma. Divine intervention, absolutely. Natural consequences, sure. Grace beyond imagining, no question. The whole Julian of Norwich school of “And all will be well, and all will be well, and all will be most well.”

Sometimes, though, taking the high road requires superhuman virtue; staying on that road requires an actual infusion of grace. For example, several months  ago someone I thought of as a friend inexplicably betrayed me. We happen to run in similar social circles, and so putting her entirely out of mind (which is typically how I handle this kind of thing) wasn’t an option. My attempt to reconcile (by letter) was ignored. She went her way, I went mine, and each time her name came up, my stomach would tighten.

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It doesn’t always feel good, at least not right away. Sometimes it can feel like the other person “wins” unjustly. It can be hard to let go, yet the person who said, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” did have a point.

And so, I did the only thing I knew how to do: Took the high road, in baby steps. Unclenched my grasp, finger by finger, and tried to move on. “Bless her, Lord. Or at least, make me willing to bless her. Or at least, make me willing to be willing to forgive.”

Do I wish the whole thing would come to light, once and for all? There was a time when I did. But today a wise person reminded me: We can’t really know the full implications of our actions (or anyone else’s) in this life, and we won’t fully “get it” until we get to see the whole story from God’s point of view. Like in the movie What Dreams May Come (one of my favorite films), even the worst moments of our lives can turn out to be … something beautiful.

The things that are most painful, here and now, will likely look very different in heavenly light. And that is the ultimate grace, knowing that each day is one step closer to home … and lasting peace.

Bless them, God. Bless them all.



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?



A Blessing for Not-So-Holy Families

It was like scratching an itch that had been building up for years. Then, the day before Christmas, the proverbial straw landed. Finally, this ol’ camel scratched in the form of a carefully worded e-mail.

Ahhhh . . . camel crap.

We’ve been shoveling it for days now, with no end in sight. Someday I’ll get around to sharing details, but for now I’ll summarize it this way: Nothing, not even righteous indignation, feels good enough to justify hurting someone you REALLY love. And sometimes even the most justified comeback can have consequences you never intended.

In this case, the easy “Sorry” won’t work. You know, the one-size-fits-all apology married men discovered this eons ago. …

  • “I’m sorry I agreed with you that those pants make your butt look fat.”
  • “I’m sorry I said your laugh reminds me of your mother’s.”
  • “I’m sorry I didn’t bring home the milk you forgot to ask me to pick up.”
  • Why not? I offered, and Craig said it would only make things worse. So instead I’ve decided to turn this into a little life lesson, about the importance of keeping one’s saddle clean-swept. Of talking things out before the straws get too thick. Of tending to relationships in the short term, so the occasional bump won’t matter so much in the long term.

    This week, on the feast of the Holy Family, I offer this blessing for not-so-holy ones.

    Father God, we are all your children.
    And sometimes children squabble.
    Teach us to play nicely,
    and to use our words carefully, kindly, and at just the right time.
    In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen!