…and it is me.
It’s strange, the things that provoke you to write. I have felt really introspective the past couple of weeks, in part because what I’ve been reading has been causing me to reflect a lot on the state of my heart and my relationship with God. Flannery O’Connor’s stories will do that to you. She has a way of zoning in on the crux of a person’s character with laser-like precision, and it is uncomfortable when it’s a character defect that you possess. And I possess a lot of them. Talk about an ability to point out hypocrisy…and heresy…and faithlessness…and (thankfully) redemption.
All of the O’Connor stories I’ve read lately have talked about judging others harshly. They illustrate (painfully) the folly of judging others while failing to judge oneself. They expose the heresy of failing to recognize our own shortcomings while continually pointing out those of our neighbors…our associates…our coworkers…our peers…our fellow church members…our friends…our families.
I am such a hypocrite. I have committed this heresy a million times, every time thinking that I am the wronged one and therefore not in the wrong. I was wrong.
A family member remarked to me a couple of years ago that he “only makes efforts with those who make efforts” with him. I was astonished that he would admit that, because it struck me as so petty and judgmental. And let’s face it…it was. I was inclined to think at the time that he was selfish and shortsighted…that if he continued along that path, that he would be a lonely person because he would alienate so many people with that ungenerous attitude. That is not how friendships – nay, relationships – work. Placing the burden of “making the efforts” on the other party…always…creates such a lopsided relationship that the effort to sustain it becomes too great to maintain. I know this because I’ve been there.
And, as has become sharply and painfully clear to me in the past few weeks, I’ve exhibited the very characteristic I have judged harshly. What have I been doing, trying to pick the splinters out of others’ eyes while ignoring (or not seeing) the beam in my own? I’ve been the damaged party…sure…but I’ve been the damaging party too.
Is it learned behavior? Maybe. It doesn’t help to see others in your own family doing this. But the real culprit is a fallen world…a world that is so infused with sin that we don’t half recognize the egregious offenses in ourselves.
I am struggling to forgive some excruciatingly painful treatment in my past…treatment that engendered in me years of rage, depression, uncertainty and bitterness. I was the wronged party. I had (and have) a right to feel all of these things. But…but… At what point will I be able to stop pointing the finger of judgment and recrimination, and (truly) forgive it? Apologies have been made. Sincere ones. I am grateful for them, and gratified by them, but I am failing miserably at my part in the equation. How do I do it?
I have not made the efforts I am supposed to…not consistently. I don’t reach out voluntarily across the divide. I do keep an arm’s length. I often allow the efforts at maintaining the relationship(s) to remain one-sided. I do not trust that it will not happen again, even though I “believe” that it won’t. I am almost confident that the other shoe will not drop…almost…but I am still waiting for it. How do I trust that we are finished with it? How do I do that when I am weak and fearful?
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi said “the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” So true, and in this situation I am the weakest of the weak. But couple that with Psalm 73:26 which states that “my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the STRENGTH of my heart and my portion forever.” (emphasis mine) A no brainer, right? Yep…in a sinless world.
Myriad sources discuss forgiveness, in every possible light, but I think it was C. S. Lewis who described forgiveness as something you must do again and again, every single day, because until your heart has truly forgiven, the results are only temporary. What a perfect analysis of what forgiveness is and how to do it. It makes Matthew 18: 21-22 crystal clear…forgiving seventy times seven is not to forgive 490 times, but to forgive repeatedly until forgiveness is real.
The marching orders are to make the effort. Every day. Reciprocation great, but not required. Because it is not about the other party…it is about my heart. Your heart. Our hearts.
I have met the enemy, and the enemy is me.
God, and God alone, can change me.