Paddling in Shallow Waters: The Invigorating Power of Forgiveness

A few weeks ago as I contemplated my New Year’s resolutions, I had an idea: I would make a list of twelve people with whom I have less-than-satisfying relationships. You know, something said or done along the way created hard feelings (on my part or theirs, or both).

How would it be, I wondered, if invited each of these people to spend ten minutes — TEN, mind you — saying anything that they wanted to say to me. I would not comment, retaliate, or defend myself in any way. At the end of that ten minutes, I would offer a simple, heart-felt apology and thank them for sharing. We would then “wipe the slate clean” and start over. Neither of us would speak of the encounter again (at least, I wouldn’t).

If this person chose not to participate, I would write up the estrangement as best I could, and burn it. I would then begin to treat the person as though they had participated in the exercise.

When I told my husband about the idea, he was a bit dubious. “Are you SURE you could listen to somebody talk about you without commenting? It might be kind of hard to hear.”

I decided to test it. I made the first offer to one of my sisters, whom I thought had been acting a bit “off” during our visit. We sat down, and I told her what I had observed, and asked her to unload. In ten minutes, the air was clear and I was none the worse for wear. All was well.

Now, I suppose it’s possible that at some point the exercise might prove to be more painful than cathartic. And there are a couple of people that I believe with all my heart I am better off just avoiding as much as possible. Still, even for these individuals I can burn the past transgressions and start over. My soul will thank me.

Then today, the most extraordinary thing happened that made me think that there might be more than one way to accomplish my goal, and get all twelve names off my “list.” When I approached one of my Top Twelve at church today about another, unrelated matter, his petty response prompted my mild-mannered husband to decisive action. Long story short: I checked one more person off my list without having to set an egg timer.

A short time later, a small bonus: On the way out of church, the daughter of another frienemy came up and asked me to buy Girl Scout cookies. I bought two, feeling pleased with myself. Check, check.

Today we celebrate the second event associated with Epiphany: the Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. The Perfect Man so completely identified with sinful mankind that he submitted to John’s rite of repentance. And in so doing, he blessed the waters and instituted the rite by which all of us could be born into the kingdom of his Father.

Today’s events reminded me of the powerful things that can happen when baptized believers pour out forgiveness upon one another, building bridges of peace and reconciliation. When this happens we imitate the humility of Christ in a way that is truly restorative and grace-filled.

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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!