A Mouse, and the Conundrum of Forgiveness

24 10 2013

I don’t hate the mouse that is running around my apartment. In fact, I’ve only seen it once, and it appeared to be as frightened of me as I was of it. It’s fall, and little critters (like the rest of us) are just looking for a way to survive the bitter winter. This particular bold rodent happened upon a way into my cozy space and decided to take up residence. Who could blame it – I have a nifty and warm place. I’ve forgiven the little thing for moving in, but let’s face it, a mouse is simply not wanted. Does forgiveness require that I live with the mouse? I don’t think so. Therefore, I’m going to set a trap for it, without rancor (but with some squeamishness).

Better-Mousetrap-640x260

Which gives me pause to think about forgiveness in other circumstances. If someone has harmed me or hurt me, and the harm or hurt is real (not simply a matter of pettiness), how far do I have to take this forgiveness thing? Can I forgive without forgetting? Is it forgiveness if I can’t return to former feelings of liking or respect for the individual? Have I forgiven someone if I remain unwilling to allow them close enough to hurt me again? Have I forgiven them if the experience continues to color my judgement of their words or behaviors? Can I forgive a person but still not welcome them back into my life?

These are important questions. The kind of questions for which easy answers are rarely forthcoming. But I had to give it a shot, right? I googled “quotes about forgiveness” and found the sort of wisdom you might expect:

“Always forgive your enemies, nothing annoys them so much.” – Oscar Wilde
“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” –Mark Twain
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi

These statements aren’t much good for those of us seeking some practical insight or advice about forgiving and moving on. Then I came upon this:

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.” ― Anne Lamott

Perfect! A measurement I can really use. I don’t need to hit back. Does that mean I’m finished? Unfortunately, I’ve never been the type of person who hits back. I’m more the “stand-with-mouth-haning-open-and-mind-suddenly-blank” type. So lacking the urge to hit back may not be the best measure of whether I’ve forgiven someone. But it’s a good start.

“Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Trust requires a track record.” ― Rick Warren

Forgiveness does not require that I immediately trust the individual again. Trust requires a track record, and IF I continue to be in direct relationship with this individual that record needs to be established. In fairness, this idea of a track record also means that if the hurtful/harmful behavior is an anomaly in a relationship of demonstrated trust, then trust might be called for sooner rather than later. Clearly, one sign that we’ve actually forgiven someone is that we’re able to regard them with fairness.

You may already have guessed that these questions, and my search for answers, are not purely academic in nature. I’ve always believed myself to be good with the forgiveness thing – but in the past, forgiveness hasn’t posed much of a problem because I was dealing with family and dearly loved friends. These individuals forgive me, and I forgive them, easily and often. The experience of forgiveness directed toward someone who was not emotionally as close but whose ability to hurt me was still high is a new one for me. I believe that forgiveness is key for my own growth and ability to move forward in life – which is why I am spending time living with these questions. And even though there is a specific application in this case, it never hurts to revisit our beliefs about such important life questions as the nature of forgiveness.

In the meantime, I have some business to resolve with a little mouse.

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10 responses

24 10 2013
Tammy

One of my favorite forgiveness quotes is; “Forgive others, not because they deserve forgivenss but because you deserve peace.”

Have a great day! Good luck with your ‘little’ problem.

24 10 2013
chrisinnmChris

I like to define forgiveness not as forgetting, but as promising not to remember. We can’t forget the things that cut us like a knife, but we can promise to another person that we will never bring it up again or whip them with it when they are least expecting it. Then we have to live lives of integrity and continually set away the remembrance of it. And that gets easier with practice.

25 10 2013
jenion

Chris, thanks for both of your replies! I like that distinction between forgetting/promising not to remember. I can totally see this working with people who have an ongoing relationship or interaction. Is forgiveness possible, do you think, when the people involved do not have the kind of interaction/relationship that allows for directly discussing the issue? I’ve never discussed with or told this individual the ways (or even that) I was hurt/harmed, and the individual has never acknowledged that choices they made did cause harm to others.

25 10 2013
chrisinnm

I think we have two choices in such a case, Jen: We can either speak to that person in love, hoping that sharing the hurt with them will help them to grow as a person, or, in cases where that is either impossible or not practical, then we can decide to cover their sin in love. By that I mean we make the concious decision to apply a sort of forgiveness to them even though they have not asked for forgiveness. We determine the same thing: to not remember/dwell on/incubate bitterness, but instead of true one-to-one forgiveness, we cover their sin with our act of love as Christ covers our sin. It doesn’t result in the same kind of restoration that person-to-person forgiveness does, however. But it does result in a lack of bitterness on our part.

At least that’s how I interpret scripture on the subject. Matthew 18, of course, is the classic text on forgiveness.

31 10 2013
jenion

Chris, I hope you know how grateful I am for your presence and ongoing example in my life. Love you!

24 10 2013
chrisinnm

I tried to leave this once, but it didn’t appear. So if this is a double, please forgive me (pun intended!)

I think a better definition of forgiving than forgetting is to promise not to remember. The difference is subtle, but important. When I forgive someone, I promise not to remember that cut they gave me. That doesn’t mean I can obliterate it from my memory, but it means that every time it comes to mind, I must live a life of integrity to my promise and lay it aside. When I forgive, I promise not to bring it up again, not to whip the person with the remembrance of it when they least expect it, and to exercise the mental discipline of laying it aside and not ruminating on it.

25 10 2013
hungrygirleats

It never ceases to amaze me how in sync I am with your messages.
I texted the Mark Twain quote
To a friend earlier today, Without recalling the source. You saved me a google search ! Thank you!! 🙂

31 10 2013
jenion

I’m sorry I’m so behind in replying to comments! Monkey, there is a compatability between kindred hearts that is often surprising! Naomi and I got together serendipitously a couple of weeks ago, and you were so present at our table in Panera’s. Love you, love reading your FB and blog posts – it helps me feel that connection.

31 10 2013
hungrygirleats

That’s the second time I can think of that you wrote specifically about what I was thinking in the same 24 hr time frame. A lot of interesting synchronicities are occurring these days, and the experience is really pretty fun! There’s so much happening that isn’t going into the blog, sooner or later it will surface in some form or fashion. What I would like most is a late night evening on your sofa to spill it all out! Love you and look forward to the day we get to do that again. (Ps –
Thanks to you and Naomi for the love! )

31 10 2013
hungrygirleats

Ps, compared to “the old days “, this isn’t anywhere near “late”!! Our response time has improved dramatically, if I do say so myself!

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