On Monday I went for a drive to visit my parent’s graves and just as I was heading down the street I had to stop to avoid this other driver going the opposite way. He had briefly swung into my lane to get around a line of parked cars. I think that I had the right-of way as my lane was clear and he was obligated to stop and wait for me to get past him before he moved into my lane. Not a big deal as it wasn’t a near collision, we were far enough apart along the road. But a little bit of irritation with him rose up briefly that was squelched by the word:
It sprang up unbidden, just wafted up from my unconscious and hung there. Not that there was much to forgive but it was interesting nonetheless. Perhaps if I was more angry the word never would have had a chance at breaking through the emotion. But it saw an opportunity and it took it.
My usual automatic reaction would be one of annoyance or irritation or a whole host of nasty thoughts. The dark detritus just emerges and hangs around like toxic waste just poisoning my mood. Frequent negative thoughts fight through and hang about, and from what I gather this is common to most people.
But I was curious as to why the word forgive just popped up and nestled in my brain instead of the brief annoyance or irritation just planting itself, taking root and growing into a monster vine of resentment at other people and how dumb they are.
So I took it upon myself in this drive of which the original destination (the cemetery) turned out to be a brief stop and not the destination, and pondered the notion that forgive was my reaction, and not something meaner, despite the minor offense of the other driver.
I ended up thinking that maybe I can embark upon yet another round of focused spiritual development, of interior conversion centered around training me to have forgive as an automatic reaction rather than a negative one that normally festers. I’ve done this before successfully in my 5 years of sobriety. The AA “Big Book” mentions some things about anger and resentment being “red flags”. And so I, over the course of time, tried to recognize these “red flags” as they arose and strike them quickly. It works. It took time and effort, but eventually I became a less outwardly angry and irritable person. At least I think so. Working on “impatience” as much the same way. As before, when I felt rising anger, irritation and resentment building up that I tried to get rid of, feelings of impatience also were dealt with similarly.
I still get angry, annoyed, irritated and impatient, but they don’t define me. At least I hope so.
Anyway, back to forgive.
So I thought about the effects of going about the day keeping in mind that in any given instance I might have my feathers ruffled, for real or imagined. This post has been bouncing around my head since Monday’s drive, time to get it out on paper. Or electrons. 🙂
It seems to work. Whenever there is an instance where someone bothered me (again, specifics don’t matter, just go about your day and reflect on how many times people seem to irritate you, and they probably aren’t even aware.) It was like a mantra, just thinking forgive.
It has a healing effect. It immediately soothes. Instead of a rising negative attitude that may be sustained for a few minutes or hours, it quickly quiets them. All this repeated negative detritus just accumulates and poisons your soul. Repeating forgive gets you over it quickly.
I am melancholic. Which means I have a tendency towards being sensitive and dwelling on things, along with a certain bit of nostalgia. That sometimes makes for an unhealthy combination in which things from the past get dredged up and dwelt upon. Sometimes from the faraway past. Just repeating forgive helps soften the pain. To me, it was as if I was automatically releasing it (whatever it was) to God.
The repetition of forgive also helps interrupt the flow of the negative thoughts. This is related to something I had posted before, I forget which post, about why AA’s attend meetings when they feel like they may be about to relapse. The idea is that you relapse sometime before you actually take that drink, but meeting attendance, if that’s the best tool you have, interrupts the sequence of thoughts leading to the drink. Even if all the AA did was attend the meeting, regardless of the topic, the environment was enough to stifle the continued flow of thoughts which would have led to the action of taking a drink.
Same for thinking the word forgive. It immediately interrupts the self-righteous, indignant feelings that arise when you are wronged, regardless of how serious, regardless of whether the injury was intended or just accidental, or real or imagined. (You know what I mean, someone looks at you the wrong way, or they’re talking quietly to themselves and you think the muttering is about you. You’re not as important to the World as you think, they may not even be aware that you were passing through their field of vision when a stray thought of theirs caused them to do whatever it was they did. And maybe it was an upsurge of negative thoughts! HA!)
Just let it go. It isn’t worth mulling over. It isn’t worth wasting time holding onto the resentment of a momentary irritation, or some wrongdoing someone wrought upon you the other day or some time ago. Just forgive.
We Christians know how to forgive. Turn it over to God, let Him deal with it and you just cut the emotional ties to the event. Stop feeding the monster. If you persist in nurturing the resentment, it’s as if you are climbing up on God’s judgment seat and condemning the other person. That’s God’s job, assuming He agrees with you. He might not. If you are a Catholic Christian, in your examination of conscience that you do prior to Confession, analyze what you may have done in your relations with the other person to have caused the incident. (That’s part of humility. Never assume you’re entirely innocent.) Then confess it and work on your firm purpose of amendment to not do that ever again. Don’t feel self-righteous about another’s behavior towards you. “How dare they?” You’ve probably caused your fair share of unintentional and unwitting grief as well.
This repetition of the word forgive whenever something irritating is done by somebody is also done unconditionally. You don’t debate who’s right or who’s wrong. It’s easy enough to sweep away the garbage when the rising emotion comes from a routine going on about the day and there’s a host of attitudinal and emotional bumping and grinding. (Like the driver way back in the beginning of this post. Wow, that’s way back up there!) It’s another when there is a rupture of some degree and there is genuine hurt. This was touched upon in yesterday’s post.
You may refer to Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus was using a common Hebrew shorthand of using multiples to mean “a lot” or, “a long time”. You forgive as often as you need to. As often as you are wronged.
Forgive anyway. It is tough, and o
ften might not be immediately possible, but is necessary eventually.
There is also something perhaps uniquely Christian about just saying forgive. It is self-sacrificial. This is the unconditional part from 2 paragraphs up. You are not counting the cost to yourself, nor determining who’s right or wrong. In any rupture, both sides can be held accountable. Even the person wronged, perhaps. (I mean interpersonal conflicts, slights, offenses. Not crimes.)
Think of Matthew 5:38-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
Therefore, you are in essence, “turning the other cheek” when you think or say forgive. You are not making an accounting to settle with later. You are turning it over.
Forgive is healing in another way. As you go about the day uttering to yourself forgive automatically whenever the heat of rising irritation begins to bubble towards the caldera of your mind, and those times when you forgive the really big hurts that have been inflicted on you, you notice that you heal in another manner.
You begin to forgive yourself. Sometime by this weekend I plan to post something I thought of during the priest’s sermon last Sunday. The post (title unknown yet) concerns concupiscence (look it up) and self-esteem. Anyway, we all hurt. Much of it is self-inflicted. Many times we are harder on ourselves than we are on other people. We tend not to forgive ourselves. As we repeatedly utter to ourselves the word forgive it gets easier to ignore slights, real or perceived, committed against us by others. But it also should make it easier to forgive ourselves. For anything. No matter how long ago. As long as you also take care of it in sacramental confession, presuming it’s a sin, jettisoning the negative emotional dreck should become easier.
Forgive, then, works then simultaneously on inside, as well as on outside, threats. As you learn to forgive others, and become more accustomed to it, you get used to doing it for yourself. This doesn’t absolve you of any responsibility towards making amends to people you’ve hurt, but in the possibility of no reconciliation, it’s a good way to complete the healing.
Don’t forget some of Jesus’s final words spoken from the Cross:
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left.
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They divided his garments by casting lots.
He was dying, up there. God, a common criminal. And yet he forgave them. Of course, He’s God, He can do that. But it was a lesson to us. An important one. If He can forgive what was done to Him, who are we to decide that we cannot?
Forgive.Know someone, perhaps yourself, who might like Catholic devotionals for alcoholics? Please take a look at my books! (Thank you!!)"The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics"