In the not too distant past, I forgave a transgression against me. Or so I thought.
It was a whopper of a transgression, and yet the magnitude of the crime made it that much easier to be relatively calm and charitable about the whole event. It’s all those pesky little sins to which we hold tight because we can wrap our fingers around them: a hurtful comment, a thoughtless gesture, even an impersonal traffic violation on the part of a stranger can fire us up all day long. But if someone does some egregious thing and especially if they somehow manage to be defensive about the situation whether from embarrassment or from affected ignorance of how terribly their actions have hurt you, it is too difficult to carry that burden of anger. It is simpler to just forgive their sin and move on. Or so I thought.
Well over a decade ago, a very silly close relative of mine did a youthfully foolish and illegal thing. She used my name and social security number to obtain credit at local department stores, where she then racked up a load of debt. I was mad and didn’t want to have much to do with her for some time. I let the police handle the situation, and I trudged away with shoulders sagging from the weight of resentment and shock.
Two years later, I was getting married. This relative had repented and changed. I thought about the rest of my life, straining hard to see into the far distant future. I thought about the anger and the difficulties in dragging that baggage with me everywhere I went as I had been for two years. I decided I didn’t want to maintain a strained relationship, and so I included her in my wedding. Everyone lauded me my generous act, and the relative was very grateful. But I knew two things. One: it is not very heroic to decide to stop expending your own personal energy in a negative way. Two: choosing to forgive does not bring instantaneous healing.
In fact, the first step in choosing to forgive seemed to be choosing to forget. I could will myself to not view this person as a thief. I could will myself to focus on her positive behavior and characteristics. I could will myself to act polite and charitable and even pleasant. But our relationship was not what it had been before the whole sordid affair. Charity is one thing; actually liking someone is quite another. That part took quite some time. Naturally, the process was speeded by a willful desire on both our parts to make it so. And thank God for these miracles, since she’s now my best friend.
Fast forward to last year and this other situation and this other person who did something even worse. I knew, from experience, that the anger wasn’t worth the effort. And so I forgave her. Or so I thought.
In the last week, an email prayer chain from my old parish has included this person in the list for serious health reasons. My reaction has been less than kind, I must confess. It’s not that I wish ill upon her; it’s more that smug satisfaction that comes from thinking what goes around comes around. Perhaps if she were a bit more right with God, bad luck would not constantly darken her skies with storm clouds. Perhaps these health issues “conveniently” come at a time when she needs extra sympathy and generosity from her latest scam victim.
Awful. Plain awful.
These thoughts are so shockingly uncharitable that I have been forced to really look at myself and how I have personally handled the situation in my heart. Obviously, I have not forgiven her. Obviously, I have not even taken that first step of forgetting the transgression – of thinking of her in a charitable way. Instead, I took a step in the opposite direction and forgot the sin by putting it and her completely out of my mind. No, I haven’t been burdened with anger and resentment, because I have opted to pretend that it never happened.
Pray for your enemies. Not pray that they treat you better or that their lives improve so that your own life will improve, but rather pray for their health and their well-being for their own sake. Since she is not a close relative and wasn’t even a close friend, I don’t think that the sort of healing that I sought in my other situation is necessary. But if we are to share in the Kingdom, I will have to spend all of eternity with her, right? I hope that by praying for her health, I can take the first step toward a truer forgiveness and possibly be able to pray the Lord’s Prayer without shame.