There is a certain nurse in our community that decided the only proper response to a practical joke I played on her was to seek revenge. Quite frankly, I don’t feel the punishment fit the “crime” of my little joke because the revenge involved messing with my sacred morning coffee. That said, I might have kinda deserved it.
Revenge is often the way we react to the hurts and pains we experience at the hands of others. It is called “sweet revenge,” and we early learn the mantra of “don’t get mad, get even.” There was a sign at a place I was employed in high school that said, “To error is human. To forgive is not company policy.” Frankly, getting even sometimes seems like it will feel better and accomplish more than will forgiveness.
In his book, “Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve,” my seminary professor, Lewis Smedes wrote: “Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply.” When we have been treated badly, we always have the options of getting even, forgiving, or trying to pretend it never happened.
The reality of our humanness is that, only forgiveness will heal us. Revenge might feel good for a moment, but it doesn’t resolve a relationship or free us from the pain of the hurt we experienced. Pretending it never happened only keeps us a prisoner to our own pain. Again, Lewis Smedes: “Forgiving is love’s revolution against life’s unfairness. When we forgive, we ignore the normal laws of getting even and, by the alchemy of love, we release ourselves from our own painful pasts.” Note that while forgiveness may free the person who wronged us, more importantly, it frees us. Novelist, Isabelle Holland wrote: “As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy a rent-free space in your head.”
No one deserves to be held a prisoner in their own painful past if there is a possibility to offer forgiveness and release ourselves. It isn’t always easy and it isn’t always possible. But to refuse to try hurts us much more deeply than our refusal to forgive hurts those who were unfair to us.
The God I know is a God of mercy and grace, offering forgiveness where it is the most difficult and, sometimes, least deserved. But it is a model for life and the human experience that should inform us all. It would be nice if it informed our public figures who seem anxious to respond anger for anger, tit-for-tat and tweet for tweet. At this point it appears our nation is determined only to answer hurt with hurt and general nastiness. Gandhi tried to teach us that, “An eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind.”
May we all learn the “alchemy of love” and what it means to forgive so as to free one another and ourselves from life’s unfairness.
Dan Dixson is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He serves as Chaplain and Bereavement Specialist at Partners In Home Care Hospice and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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