I know too many sad and angry souls who simply cannot bring themselves to forgive. The wounds are too fresh, too deep, too profound.
I concede that some offenses are frankly unpardonable. But when such oppressive anguish has its hooks into you so deeply, it eats away at the fabric of your wellbeing so that only one of two significant events must take place — either it will kill you, or you will kill it. A gesture of grace can be a fine weapon.
Some say they can live without forgiving someone. But holding onto such profound anxiety devastates in equal parts, mentally and physically. This pernicious decay is gradual and, though you may disguise it for a while, angst will always beat you down. That’s what angst does best.
Buddha said, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Absolving a cruelty or personal attack is never painless, which is why so many stay far afield of it. It’s an instinctively alien concept to actually allow someone who’s so clearly guilty to just waltz away with a Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card. But think of it rather as doing something wonderful for yourself.
In the 1970’s when I was a brakeman for the Santa Fe railroad in Wellington, Kansas there was a puppy that had lost one of its front legs to a train. It would hobble around the train yard and people remarked how sad and pathetic it was. I didn’t see that. His little face was curious and playful. Yes, he was missing a leg but he didn’t dwell on the loss. How miserable would it be to carry that kind of anguish around? Pain is not something we’re meant to hold onto.
Christ said turn the other cheek. But really think about where that came from. Imagine you’re Jesus, walking down the street on your way to give a sermon or comfort a sick soul. Suddenly a man punches you for no discernible reason. You and I would get into it with him and end up with an ambulance ride, a police report, and a fairly unflattering mugshot. But Christ knew, in the bigger scheme of things, this clown was nothing more than a distraction. Forgiveness, at its very core, is merely a difference engine.
It helps you choose — do I stop and confront my assailant, which accomplishes nothing and pulls me away from my intended goal? Or do I unceremoniously dismiss him with an “I forgive you” so I may stay on track with what’s important? There may be pain either way but which tact ends up being the lesser hurt?
Yes, there’s something definitively Christian in the concept of absolution, but at its rudimentary level, forgiving a person is really a matter of emotional economy. Do we invest our anguish in those who are undeserving of our attention in the first place? Or do we unburden ourselves of their ability to meddle with our happiness?
Terrible things will always happen to good people. And good people will always manage to navigate beyond tragedy and loss. Sometimes it takes a while, but it’s always achievable.
When I am wounded, either by circumstance or cruel intent, I remember the three-legged puppy — savaged by the world, yet determined to embrace the good that is in it. The giving of grace to another is a truly healthy act of selfishness. And it’s what I will always choose.