Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Joseph, Forgiveness, Burdens, Perplexities

As I've mentioned here before, forgiveness figures prominently in my Lent this year. The deeper I go into this, the more amorphous becomes my definition of forgiveness. One of the dictionary definitions I like says that to forgive is : To renounce anger or resentment against.

That I understand -- to detach from something bad. Anger is as strong a glue as love, just not nearly as satisfying.

Here is what I know so far: Forgiveness does not have to be a "pardon" -- no one has to yell "Olly Olly Oxen Free" at the end of a forgiveness. The largest benefit of forgiveness accrues to the forgiver. And forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.

In Genesis, Joseph, a man horribly abused by his brothers, describes his forgiveness of them and his reconciliation with them when they repent to him. They sold him into slavery. They apologize much later, and he forgives them.

He says " 'Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.' And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them."

Joseph is a better person than I am.

And luckier, in that all his abusers were repentant.

But that aside, what he accepted as part of his reconciliation is that every wrong done to him gave him strength in some way -- that his life and his ability to help others was fired in the furnace of adversity. If he had not had his life's misfortunes, he would not have had his eventual life's fortunes.

I stand in perplexed awe. I am not certain I could ever have that much grace.

But what I do understand is, reconciled or not, how important it was for Joseph to see God's intent as larger than his evil brothers' intent.

That I can do! I can understand the proportions of things.

Still, I find I can define forgiveness more by its absence than by its presence.

Signs of the absence of forgiveness (and the consequent spiritual pain) seem to be:

When we get tied up in the muck of other people's past wrongdoings.
When we do not seek justice, but rather revenge.
When we see the world through the eyes of our pain.
When something someone said or did to us limits the freedom we have to experience any good thing.
When we find ourselves telling the story of a past injustice over and over and over.

Here is how I spoke about forgiveness in a recent email to a dear friend:

Imagine that we all look at the world through a lens. Whenever anyone in our lives abuses us, or hurts us in some way that lingers in our thoughts, it is like they smear some Vaseline on a bit of the lens -- so that as we look at the world we sometimes see it through the aftermath of our pain or abuse. What was done to us colors how we see the world. It colors what we see and how we see it, what we believe, what we do. Everybody gets hurt in life. Some of the pains we have are so big, so deep, so scarring that they can't all be shaken. But many can be.

I believe I can surrender my attachments to a lot of my old pain - and that I can stop living through the results of those pains - and clean off some of the Vaseline that is on the lens through which I see my world. I cannot do that just by ignoring things that happened. Or by being angry about them years after the fact. Or by feeling resentment, ongoing woundedness, or any of those things that attach me like glue to old hurts.

Let's use the trivial example of the kids I mentioned in a prior blogpost - while it is not a big deal at all, even today I know that a tiny part of me watches people's faces when I tell them I am Polish, waiting to see if they say something unkind or make a joke. I know that tracks back to those kids (and some other stuff) -- but at least in part to those kids. If, through forgiveness, I can let go of my attachment to that event, to any piece of the fear that still lingers as part of that -- then I no longer have to live out of the wound, or incorporate it in the way I see others, or worry about their opinion.

Forgiveness (at least in part, the part I understand) is the putting down of a burden of bad feeling. It is a Great and Holy Unraveling. It is saying "I will no longer see the world through this piece of pain." It is, for me, a way to freedom. Generally, I just want a lot of it to be over. I want to walk free of a bunch of old crap. I want to lay down those burdens.

Tell me please, those of you who read this -- what do you know for certain about forgiveness - and what do you wonder? More even than the what of forgiveness, let us talk about the how of forgiveness.


Blogger HereISit said...

I had a (long)time in my life during which I was hanging on to some anger and resentment and reliving the "actions" of the other persons, thereby continually feeling the pain and hurts.

I read a chapter in a book that described standing in front of a chair, imagining that the person inflicting the hurt was sitting in the chair, and talking to that person about all these past happenings.

That book wasn't overtly Christian, but I recognized the Christian underpinnings in the writting. One of the author's points was that one might need to forgive a number of times to make some progress in forgiveness. Lightbulb: Jesus said forgive 7 X 70. That is suppose to be a symbolic way of saying forgive completely. But now I believe that he meant to forgive over and over; that it will take many times to get to the right feeling of forgiveness.

This chair method allows a person to act toward forgiveness regardless of what the other person does.
Sometimes people think that they can't forgive unless the other person appologizes first, which means that you can't forgive a dead person or a person who doesn't think they he did anything wrong.

It was so hard for me to even think about forgiving the people in question that I knew I needed to do the talking to the chair WITH prayer for God's help. The outcome for me regarding the two situations was that I came to realize that these people had done the best they could with what they knew at the time. They hadn't been the least bit malicious in their actions, rather just "normally" thoughtless.

This was a big moment for me and certainly a step in the right direction. I did find that the feelings of anger toward the one person came back over and over and that I had to consciously forgive again and again, with God's help. The anger came back less and less frequently and I eventually forgot that man's name.

I wish I had a was of dealing with short term flashes of anger.

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mata - being European and having gathered you were American (US citizen) I am somewhat amazed that you say about yourself "I AM Polish". Would you, please, explain the use of the present tense? Is "being Polish" central, might it be somehow connected with forgiving self and others?

I'm now wondering (exploring my conscience?) why your saying "I am Polish" makes me ask the above questions. I may be back.

P.S. I like the image of the vaseline-smeared lens!

Emm (who goes by "turnover" on beliefnet)

2:54 AM  
Blogger The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Have a look at my blog re forgiveness. it's in february's archive, titled, 'The Gospel According To Carrie'

Like the sight and your musings

4:49 AM  
Blogger samtzmom said...

You know, as I read this Mata, it occured to me that although I have had to forgive small things, I have never really had to struggle with anything large which required much more effort to forgive, so my perspective is so different. I do know that hanging onto anger and sadness only disrupts our own lives, and so the need to forgive is for ourselves, and not for the one who wronged us. It does stay with us, and does color how we see the world. We never have to forget, but we have to release the pain.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Emm..I'll answer yours first as I am about to dash to work -- in America, unless one is Native American, everyone has ancestral roots somewhere else. We are a nation of proud immigrants. Perhaps describing myself as Polish-American might have made more accurate sense, but the last half is more known than the first -- and no one ever chased me home from school throwing rocks at me because I was "American". All four of my grandparents were from Poland, Polish was the second language spoken in our house, and the first language spoken in the homes of many of my relatives. We kept many of the traditions of the "Old Country" and attended a Polish Roman Catholic church where the mass was in Polish. We ate Polish food, bought bread from the local Polish bakery. I could go on, but you get the drift. Ethnicity takes on a different tone in the US. Being Polish is as much a part of who I am as being American. You will find similar fervor among many groups here - Irish, Italian, etc.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Rainbow dreams said...

Only once have I had to dig so deep for forgiveness - but I couldn't settle until I had found a way - eventually I was able to see the person as human, scared and vunerable, and accept what they had done to me and my family - they had died so couldn't ever apologise, nor would I ever know if they felt any remorse at all - so now although i still remember, and I don't like what they did, I can honestly say I have forgiven them - something that took me off guard was that I had inadvertently ended up in church while confession was going on - and it was only after confession - hadn't been for donkey's years up till then - that it felt as if a weight had been lifted

9:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The notion of forgiveness takes on many colors as each situation varies. It is almost akin to the process of grief, as each notion or cause for suffering produces emotional upset.

I think that time does really heal, but even within the process of healing, there is something within each of us, when attacked, that is grossly altered and sometimes destroyed. I think that this "something" requires time to identify and then even more time to rectify. Can this "something" be termed innocence? Blind trust? Our levels of emotional balance and intellectual knowledge cannot be turned on and off like water taps. We humans require time.

Anger is defined as anything from distress to displeasure and on down the ladder to indignation to rage to fury to ire to wrath. We tend to use the term "anger" far too loosely, which conjures thoughts of attack and harm. Can we not also describe the basis of forgiveness as being abject frustration? Shock? Lack of understanding?

I have often heard the biblical term, "7x70". As I write this, I am experiencing such. Again, and again, and again we go through bouts of attack-abject frustration-attack-shock-attack-lack of understanding...the attacked is held responsible by the attacker to back off. Even though the attacker repeatedly breaks legal laws and the attacked has broken non, the attacker feels vindicated. A very vicious cycle, this. The dilemma here, is where to call it quits. The attacker refuses to accept responsibility and the attacked is grossly harmed. This is happening on a personal level, but we can also see this very thing happening on a national/international political/religious level.

There are times when, I strongly believe, it is wise and prudent to "vacate the premises". And this can also be applied to personal and even family relationships. I don't walk this earth with the belief that we "have to take it". There are situations in life where we simply have to draw the line in the sand and not again cross over. But this too, requires great durations of thought.

Time really does heal, but time also really does alter.


1:12 PM  
Blogger LutheranChik said...

I mentioned this on the Beliefnet Lenten dialogue group: One of my issues is that I can think that I have forgiven someone, but inevitably, and seemingly apropos of nothing, all the bad memories of being wronged come to the fore again, and I realize that I must not have forgiven this person "from the heart."

I honestly don't know how to sever the endless-loop tapes of resentment over certain people and situations. I think I have, but I haven't. I don't know what to do.

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand what you are saying, Lutheranchik. There are differences in people that can continously rub us the wrong way, such as cultural or religious. Even though these things may bother us, these differences are far more easily forgivable than is meanness or heartlessness.

I am learning to flatline or neutralize the meanness or heartlessness of people. This gives me an opportunity to allow these people some space in the future. Are they simply having a bad hair day? Or is something in their personal life eating at them and causing this upset? Or, are they striking out in attempt to cover up their own continuous hurtful actions?

This gives me lots of time to think and make a decision as to whether or not I want to continue the relationship or possibly prosecute. As I stated on my earlier post on this thread, I then draw a line in the sand and do not again cross over.

One of the contributors on Beliefnet stated that her husband of many years had been an abusive alcoholic. He has since stopped drinking but the negative effects of his abusiveness years ago were still causing emotional problems within her, his wife. She more or less stated that she did not know what to do about it. This example really parallels what we are discussing here.

I think that we, individually, must take the time and make the effort to analyze these situations and take a stand in order to protect ourselves. We have to ask ourselves how far we will allow someone to push before we seek help to prevent the harm in the future. No one can hurt us unless we give them the permission to do so.

The person, I can forgive. The hurtful action of the person, is what I need to deal with.


11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mata - thank you for clarifications. Longish soul-searching has unearthed why your "I am Polish" strongly struck a chord with me.


2:16 PM  
Anonymous Pat Z. said...

Mata, I know what you mean about being Polish. My grandmother was Irish, who married a Frenchman, so my dad was proud of both races. On my mother's side we are Welsh and English. Being American most of us are mixtures and that can make us more tolerant. One of my daughters married a black man, so we have become more tolerant again. Maybe people who are not mixtures have more problems being tolerant and accepting of other races. My little granddaughter has Polish blood, as her father came from a Polish family. My husband is from a German background, so our grandchildren are really like the united nations!

8:59 PM  
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2:54 AM  

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