In his beautiful book, Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner writes:
“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds,
to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect
of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the
pain you are given and the pain you are giving back — in many ways it is a feast fit
for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself.
The skeleton at the feast is you.”
Ugh. It resonates. I’ve got a mile-long list of wrongs done to me over my forty-nine and a half years on the planet. I’m a Taurus; we rarely forget a slight.
I’ve got gripes with friends and adversaries alike, with those who probably meant well along with those who seem genuinely villainous. I’m outraged and offended on my own behalf, on behalf of those I love, and on behalf of people in general. I can work myself into a righteous lather over something that happened decades ago. Even when I’ve got enough presence of mind to see that this isn’t doing me any good — that it is indeed myself I’m consuming when I’m consumed with resentment — still it’s so very hard to let go!
And heaven help you if you try to counsel me into forgiveness when I’m hurting. Even if you’re absolutely right, this is a fairly sure way to end up on my list of those I haven’t yet forgiven.
Forgiveness is a tough topic. I knew it was coming up for me, that I wanted to explore it. But as I’ve considered different approaches, I’m finding that most of them are pretty darned irritating. I mean, most of us already know that forgiveness is for our own good; we forgive so that we ourselves can be free. But I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence (least of all my own) by offering that like some sort of easy answer. This can be a complex and challenging process, we get to do it in our own time on our own terms, and it’s deep deep work. So I’m committed to not making light of any of this.
Still, I do want to be free. I want to experience boundless joy. I want to love my life. And that’s all much harder to do while lugging around a lifetime’s worth of grievance, anger, and resentment. So… forgiveness…
What’s working for me as I think about this now is the idea that all forgiveness always has to start with forgiving ourselves. In situations where I’m heartily confident that I’m the one who was mistreated, that I’m right, that I’ve been wronged, it can be really hard to leap straight into forgiveness of the other person. But if I start by asking: why am I upset? why did this hurt me? what am I making this mean about me? how am I feeling incomplete or broken? These questions give me an opportunity to love and forgive myself, to first reclaim myself as complete.
And if I can do that — if I can validate my own feelings instead of diminishing or being diminished by them — if I can forgive my wounded ego and love my broken heart back into the truth of its wholeness — then the possibility of forgiving others seems much more within reach.
If forgiving others really costs me nothing in terms of my self-acceptance, self-love, self-worth, then it can be simply an empowered choice.
“Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit.” – Peter Ustinov
Nice. That sounds really good — practicing to make a habit of looking tenderly upon myself and others and the world, making a habit of compassion and love. I can’t wait to be with you on Sunday, friends. If you’d like to dress up for some pre-Halloween festivity, let’s do it!
© 2018 Drew Groves