by Lynne Tagawa
Recently a young man I know was rude to me. I doubt if he meant to be; he was occupied in something important and didn’t want to be distracted. Should I say something to him? As I pondered, I realized that it was really just thoughtlessness on his part. The main concern, I realized suddenly, was whether I would let it bother me.
Was I willing to forgive?
Hurts come in all shapes and sizes. There are the everyday ones, such as the encounter I describe above. No harm done, except to my pride. Some hurts are enormous. So huge that even if forgiven, they leave an echo, like the scar tissue after a successful operation.
And if they aren’t forgiven, they leave wounds that weep and bleed for a lifetime.
My recent novel, A Twisted Strand, deals with this subject. A man has betrayed his wife in a profoundly hurtful way: adultery. The affair doesn’t last long, and he regrets it, but the damage is done. His wife has divorced him, and his whole life has changed. It is what it is, he thinks sadly.
His wife is scrambling to recover and reinvent her life. Her heart hurts, and she doesn’t realize that much of that pain is due to bitterness. She doesn’t understand that she can forgive him while at the same time affirming his guilt. She has embraced the lie that his guilt makes her anger justified. She wants peace, but doesn’t know where to look.
In the story, I made things simple. Not everyone who commits a great wrong like adultery is sorry like my protagonist. In fact, he comes to the point where he humbles himself and asks for forgiveness.
What if the person is not sorry? What if he or she does not ask for forgiveness?
It doesn’t matter. Forgiving wrongs against you is a Mandatory Law of the Universe. It’s one of those things like gravity. Whether or not you jump off a cliff is up to you, but the result is non-negotiable. Forgiving is difficult, but doing it releases your own heart from the poison of bitterness. Retain that insult or hurt, harbor hatred in your heart, and it will fester like a hidden infection.
But I’ve tried. He’s just an awful person!
For simple things, like rude young people, forgiveness is relatively easy. In other cases, it’s like a wrestling match. Your heart will shout things like, “He’s the one who did wrong!” or perhaps magnify the offense in a more subtle way.
Bringing up the wrong in your mind again and again is a sure-fire way to produce bitterness, not forgiveness. Once, I got angry with a doctor, who seemed to possess a perfect blend of idiocy and condescension. Internally, I railed at him again and again, focusing on these slimy qualities.
Realizing I needed to forgive, I decided to focus on the fact that this man was some woman’s son. I have four sons, and instantly this changed the calculus for me. I now saw him as a fallible human being, not a monster, and it helped. The boil of my anger was lanced.
Sometimes, with truly important wrongs, the real biggies, no one single thing will help you. It may be more of a process. In my story, one of my characters describes dealing with his own anger in a progressive way: whenever he would remember the wrong, he would forgive (or try to), and slowly, over time, the rush of anger at the thought of the wrongdoer would subside. Finally, there came a point where yes, he realized that he’d truly forgiven the person. This kind of process is very intentional though. It’s like climbing a mountain. The most important thing is the decision: yes, I’ll climb it. You get your gear, and then it’s step by step, step by step, until you finally reach the summit.
And remember: forgiveness doesn’t mean you condone the wrong. You don’t even have to like the person or enjoy his company. But forgiveness shapes you as a person. Having forgiven, you are freed to be a blessing to others.
Lynne Tagawa is married with four grown sons and three marvelous grandbabies. A biology teacher by trade, she teaches part-time, writes, and edits. She’s written a Texas history curriculum in narrative form, Sam Houston’s Republic, and has just published her debut novel, A Twisted Strand. Lynne lives with her husband in South Texas.
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