Saturday, February 2, 2008

Anger - Forgiveness

Two sides of a coin.

Anger does little good for most folks.

Certainly there are times to get angry and stay angry until the reason for the anger is resolved, wrongs are righted, injustices satisfied. Most wars are finished (and sometimes started) on the idea of a wrong to be righted. Sometimes it's even true.

But that's not the kind of anger I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the little rages we have when someone cuts us off in traffic, insults our dignity, or otherwise offends us. Such small things can have tragically large consequences. For instance:

= Someone makes a lane change to get to an exit. The person cut off races down the same off-ramp hard on the tail of the first, striking the vehicle, and both cars are totaled when the both go off the embankment. Result: Property damage and injury to both people.

= A man fires a gun on New Years Eve. He misses his intended victim and the .44-cal slug pierces the wall of a home. Result: an innocent young girl dies in her sleep.

= A twelve-year-old shoots a six-year-old in the school yard for 'dissin'" him by stepping on his shadow. I doubt she knew what she had done wrong. Result: one child dead and the other - still a child - incarcerated.

Yet, such things could be avoided if we taught forgiveness on the part of the wronged party instead of conflict resolution by gunfire. Most things are accidental or unintentional, and most people would make a small change to not offend if informed. The grace of giving way covers a lot of pains. So does forgiving, and not remembering the slight, or the hurt, or the debt.

"I’ll get even!"

How? Is it worth the hurt returned?

"Yeah, but he owes me!"

Yes, but will he ever care?

"I'll never forgive him until he begs for it!"

You may have a long time to wait. Ultimately, who is being hurt by your action?

"He is!"

Only if he knows, and cares. The Roman soldiers were only doing a job when they nailed people to crosses. Whether they were forgiven or not was beside the point to them. But forgiving his executioners I'm sure enabled Jesus to die a more peaceful death.

"Cold comfort!"

But comfort nonetheless.

The truth is the only person being hurt by our un-acted upon anger is ourselves. And if we do act on it, often times we hurt more than what we intend. The proverb of "A man who seeks revenge must first dig two graves," is truer than most of us want to admit.

So, forgive.

Of course the truly contrite person will appreciate the forgiveness and mutual healing is apt to occur when the one injured forgives the one doing the injury. Relationships are restored that way. Sometimes that healing starts when we forgive the other without waiting to be asked. The person in the wrong may doubt that forgiveness is even possible.

I've managed to offend someone in particular, who told me, when I tried to apologize, that she neither gave nor accepted apologies. Our acquaintanceship ended at that point, as she continued to be raging mad against me. I tried to apologize a few more times after that, and gave up when I saw that it was pointless. It did explain a lot about her, however. You see, I'd been waiting for her to say "I'm sorry," concerning some slight she had given me, and she was never going to do it. I moved on.

I wonder if she still pulls up her anger and stokes its furnace regarding that personal bad day I had that spilled out on the rest of the people around me. I needed a lot of grace that day. And in that light, I could understand how she felt justified in "Never forgiving me." I knew I was contrite. I also forgave her for not forgiving me. I hope she has found the wisdom of forgiveness since then.

And yet I do the same thing she did: I trip over some memory and I'm flashing white-hot anger again. I try. I try to forgive, grant grace, ignore, whatever. What doesn't work is hashing it out in my mind again. When I fight these ephemeral battles over again I'm usually in no shape to be kind to anyone, including myself.

When I practice forgiveness, including forgiving myself for my own shortcomings, I do much better. In a weird way, though, the other is more "fun." It's hard to explain, except maybe to an adrenaline junkie, but part of me enjoys the rush, even as it threatens to destroy me.

Forgiveness is more for the forgiver than it is for the forgiven. The rush to destruction is sidetracked. Peace has an opportunity to calm, to mend, to heal.

In short, forgiveness brings us closer to that place where God dwells.

Let go of your anger. Forgive the offender. Let peace flow in.

Yes, you CAN!

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