This week has turned out to be much more about forgiveness than I would have liked.
First there was the situation I wrote about yesterday, which I am still struggling to forgive and move past. Just when I think I am at peace, small snarky thoughts sneak into my head about cruel retaliation and sweet revenge. Clearly I’ve not forgiven wholeheartedly.
Then there was my attitude towards my spouse one night this week, when I was exhausted from a day of taking care of S and trying to prepare for a program I was leading at our parish that evening. Overwhelmed and overtired, I snapped at him when he told me he wouldn’t be home by the time I wanted (which, coincidently, I had failed to communicate clearly to him). Then when he walked in the door, I breezed out to the door to church with barely a goodbye.
When I got home several hours later, he was sulking. And justifiably so. I had to swallow my pride (which was already shrunken and bruised, remember?) and ask him for forgiveness. I felt rotten that I had ruined his perfectly fine evening by my own dark mood.
Thankfully F is much better at forgiveness than I. (Maybe because I give him so many opportunities to practice.) But the misunderstanding was quickly resolved and the rest of the night unfolded peacefully.
Yet over this whole week has hung the pall of the Arizona shootings. I first heard mention of the rampage when I was running errands on Saturday morning, and I gasped as I pieced together what the radio was reporting. My poor attempt at a pacifist heart rages when I hear about such violence. Innocent bystanders? Children? The elderly? Unthinkable.
As the week went on and details unfolded, I struggled with my desire to react to the news in such unforgiving ways. I wanted to blame the hateful political rhetoric of the moment, or our country’s approach to gun control, or the failure of authorities and institutions to prevent a dangerous person from hurting others.
But I definitely did not want to forgive anyone.
Then I heard a simple story on NPR while I was crawling home on the highway in a snowstorm. My eyes filled with tears as I listened to the commentator read a short biography of each victim of the attack. (I can’t find the exact piece online, but these descriptions are pretty close.)
Young and old, political junkies and everyday citizens, high-school sweethearts and devoted Catholics – their stories were shared with dignity and grace. There was no political slant, no judgment on the killer, no angry call for revenge. Just a moment of quiet respect for each man, woman and child whose lives were taken. Their stories reminded me that rage and revenge were not the right responses. Forgiveness was.
Lying in bed this morning, I was thinking about the shooting again. (Honestly, who wakes with these thoughts? My mind works in overdrive some weeks). And I remembered the story of the Amish community in Pennsylvania who forgave the man that burst into their one-room schoolhouse and killed five young girls. They forgave him. Went to his funeral after burying their own children. Raised money to help his widow and family. And did so without seeking grandiose publicity or praise for their remarkable ability to forgive.
Remembering that story reminded me that forgiveness is radical, no matter how it is practiced. We’re blown away by high-profile stories of victims’ families making peace with death-row killers, but the kind of everyday forgiveness that Christians are called to practice can feel just as radical. Forgive the co-worker that back-stabbed me? The family member that betrayed my trust? The friend whose carelessness hurt me? These can be seismic revolutions in our little worlds.
Forgiveness is wildly counter-cultural. Blame, anger, revenge, resentment – these reactions are more popular in today’s world. They grab the headlines and tantalize our emotions.
But to forgive, quietly and without fanfare, is a small yet challenging act. A statement of our beliefs and a witness to our faith. A response that we must make again and again, in every relationship. We try to grow through it, but we fall back and fail again.
Seven times seventy. Christ never said it would be easy. But it would be Right. I seem to need to relearn this truth at every new turn of the road. And figuring out how to teach S forgiveness? That will be another challenge all its own.
This week I’m just struggling to get by. Any kind of forgiveness feels radical.