“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
With every Thanksgiving comes hundreds of thoughts about being grateful and the wonderful benefits I’ll derive from this simple practice. But this year I was taken by surprise with Arthur Brook’s admonition for Thanksgiving – to truly celebrate, love your enemies. It is difficult enough to truly love our neighbor, but our enemies? He dismisses civility as bland neutral ground, insisting we must go all-in with humility toward those who offend us.
I am pondering the concept. As a construction manager, owners who do not pay what they owe or file frivolous actions are my enemies. Wouldn’t you say that anyone who takes what belongs to you is an enemy? I don’t just mean money – but your dignity, reputation, respect?
Weaving in a personal story, this weekend our two oldest grandsons had significant roles in Romeo and Juliet. I had forgotten the power of this familiar Shakespeare’s tale of family rivalry–each side boasting of their superiority. As the families feud, vanity incites young men on each side to pick fights that end in death while others swoop up the mantle of revenge. Friar Lawrence’s attempt to aid the enraptured lovers to escape from this life of constant vengeance is thwarted. In the final act, Romeo drinks poison, Juliet stabs herself to death, and grieving parents are cut to the quick by their own actions that have fed the fight. In a bittersweet ending, having lost what is most dear to them, the leaders of each clan finally reconcile.
Forgiveness is real and really hard. I hope people don’t have to die for me to get there.
In his book Forgive: Why Should I and How Can I? the late Timothy Keller says, in our culture of self-assertion we’ve become more combative and less congenial. So much angry language is thrown around we’re becoming less capable of forgiving.
In many cases he acknowledges the benefit of seeking justice, but justice alone doesn’t end hurt and pain. And stuffing under the carpet wrongs we suffered decades ago doesn’t make them go away. We need to seek healing that deals with the pain to extinguish the flames that keep it alive.
Forgiveness is a struggle, so how do we know if we’ve forgiven someone? Keller says if we’re still angry or waiting for that person to be truly sorry, or want them to pay, we haven’t forgiven. Regarding the offender, he urges us to commit to not bring up the matter with the other person, not to bring it up to others, and not even to think about it ourselves. If we keep these three commitments our anger will diminish over time. Yikes. I’m not sure I can do that. Yet, I’m not sure I can afford not to seriously try.
“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” This quote is attributed to everyone from Mandela to Buddha. – No matter.
This Thanksgiving, there are many good things for which I am truly grateful. But I am very challenged by the need to forgive. Am I willing to let go of those who have defrauded me? The list is long but if I insist on the debt being paid, waiting on it may choke me. Just saying…