We can find peace through forgiveness
What’s optional and what’s not?
I’m not thinking about the purchase of a new car. I’m talking living life. We may choose to decline some of the “bells and whistles” the salesperson offers as we’re negotiating the deal for a new car. But are there aspects of living life in this world with others of our kind that are optional rather than required?
Take stopping at a stop sign. I’ve long been under the impression that stopping is required where a stop sign is posted. Yet I’ve witnessed numerous times lately drivers not even so much as slowing down when approaching a stop sign. Careful examination revealed no additional signage granting drivers some latitude: “Stop if you feel like it;” “Stop if your schedule permits;” or “Stop only on odd numbered days.” Perhaps I give too much credit to city planners, but I believe stop signs have been planted where they are needed. Meaning, in places where they serve to preserve the safety of the population, which has a better chance of survival when some degree of order exists. A dear friend of mine claims that her father would roll past a stop sign, shrug, and say, “It’s just a suggestion.”
Believe me, I understand how it chafes us to be told what we must do and not do. We’re not especially fond of being cautioned when actions or activities are hazardous to our health. We’re a capable species. We figure things out. We handle stuff. We balk when we feel that something or someone is impinging on our freedom. And yet, what would living in this world with others of our kind look like if everything were optional?
Take forgiving someone. It’s a noble use of our personal resources. And it can burn up some emotional energy. Consume time. Give our brain cells a workout. It doesn’t seem to be hardwired into our human nature so as our default response to betrayal, slander, rejection, and the like. So, if it is not automatic, is it optional?
Recently two people have asked me about forgiveness. It’s a popular topic. Because it’s hard. There’s no simple equation to solve it. Yet it’s pretty close to essential for living life in this world with others of our kind. Not everyone takes the Scout oath at birth so not everyone is helpful and morally straight. We’re a capable species and meanness is in our repertoire. We figure out early on that when we are meaned unto we need to be more meaner in return. It’s the way we handle meanness. If we forgive the meanness, we’re only asking for meanness again tomorrow, aren’t we?
But maybe forgiveness doesn’t imply that whatever the flavor of meanness we’ve just swallowed isn’t really all that bad. Maybe there’s a way to name the poison for what it is but not suggest that we’re up for another round of it tomorrow. Maybe there’s something in the word “stop” that safeguards the dignity of all parties involved. And increases the chances of survival because there is a certain degree of order that blossoms where a “stop” is planted. It’s in the release. When I no longer imprison the one who has meaned unto me I no longer need to devote my personal resources to being a fulltime warden. I am free to choose more noble uses of my resources. But I also declare to the other and for the sake of myself that meanness is hazardous to our health.
So, perhaps forgiving is optional, not required. Just a suggestion. But one that makes life work well while living in this world with others of our kind. Give it a try. Give it a chance. Give it away. Then see what it brings in return.
Rebecca Taylor is pastor at the First Presbyterian Church. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org